As Roles Change, Hardy Continues to Shine

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

February 2, 2017

FARMINGTON HILLS – No matter the role or circumstances, Amauri Hardy finds a way to fit in.

Hardy, a 6-foot-1 senior guard from North Farmington, has been a starter since his freshman year and is one of the state’s top players. But his journey has not always been smooth.

He averaged 10 points per game his freshman season at Southfield High, then missed all but four games his sophomore season after suffering a strained knee ligament. The injury sidelined Hardy for four months, and in October of his junior year he transferred to North Farmington.

Known as a shoot first, pass second type of player, Hardy would have to change his style to fit into an experienced team that was not short on talent and players who could score.

“I didn’t have to score,” Hardy said. “We had more talent than when I played at Southfield. I had to swallow my ego. It’s something I had to do. (The North Farmington players) knew my game. I knew theirs.

“I was a combo guard last year. I tried to do what was needed. I shared things with Billy (Thomas).”

Hardy and Thomas, a senior last season, teamed to form one of the state’s top backcourts. And their ability to mesh didn’t happen by accident. The two had been friends since elementary school. When they entered high school each went his separate way, but reunited last winter their play (Hardy averaged 22 points ppg; Thomas 18) was instrumental in the Raiders’ run to the school’s first Class A Final appearance.

“We had a great talk when he came to us,” North Farmington coach Todd Negoshian said. “We talked about his goals, where he wanted to get. He didn’t want special treatment. To this day he’s always asking questions. He’s not questioning what we do. He just wants to get better. He really listened, watched and learned.”

Hardy said every day he thinks about what he and his teammates accomplished last season. Their 55-48 victory over host Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in a District Final was a big hurdle on their way to the Breslin Center.      

As talented and balanced a team as North Farmington was last season, this season’s has little experience. Hardy is the lone starter returning and the Raiders have been inconsistent, a trait many young teams confront.

Once again Hardy had to switch gears. In order for his team to be competitive, and as successful as possible, he’s had to assert himself more offensively and be the leader. Hardy is averaging 28.5 points and seven assists per game from the point guard spot, but in most games it hasn’t been enough. What makes those numbers even more impressive is that North Farmington averages just 55 points per game.

North Farmington (4-7) did defeat Southfield Arts & Technology, 76-70, on Jan. 26 for its first victory in the Oakland Activities Association Red. Hardy scored 35 points and had help this time as the other starting senior, Karl Patrick, had 19.

Overall, the Raiders have had a difficult time competing for 32 minutes. In some games they play well for three quarters, then run out of steam leaving Hardy to do much of the heavy lifting. He scored his team’s first 15 points in a 63-58 overtime loss to West Bloomfield on Jan. 20. Hardy finished with a career-high 46.

“I give him credit, the way he leads our guys,” Negoshian said. “He’s toughed through it.

“That’s what I like about him. He’s become a leader. Jacob Joubert and Alex Darden were our leaders last year. He watched and learned.”

Hardy does more than watch. He dedicated himself to the weight room in the offseason and has become a much stronger player, particularly when he goes to the basket. He’s able to ward off defenders more effectively and exhibits great body control.

And it doesn’t hurt that he’s left-handed and gives opponents a less familiar look as they try to lock him down.

Hardy was one of two players from Michigan (along with Jamal Cain of Detroit Cornerstone Health & Technology) and 64 finalists nationally for the McDonald’s All America team (no Michigan players were among 24 eventually chosen). Hardy also has signed with Oklahoma State University and is a possible candidate for the 2017 Mr. Basketball Award.

But on the way to those future opportunities, he’s filling the necessary roles as North Farmington works to elevate from its slow start.

“He’s a great teammate,” Negoshian said. “He cares about the team and the program.”     

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTO: North Farmington's Amauri Hardy (10) pushes the ball upcourt during last season's Class A Semifinal victory over Lansing Everett.

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)