Sweet-Shooting Briggs, Talented Teammates have Muskegon Dreaming Big Again

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

January 10, 2023

Jordan Briggs put on another shooting clinic Saturday night in front of a packed house at Muskegon’s historic Redmond-Potter Gymnasium, repeatedly elevating and hitting 3-pointers and mid-range jumpers, making it look effortless.

While the Muskegon senior has certainly been blessed with plenty of God-given ability, there is so much more to his story.

To fully understand Briggs’ emergence as one of the state’s best pure shooters, you had to be in the gym this summer when there was no crowd, no opposing team, no coaches and no media – just Briggs and the school’s shooting machine.

The only sounds on those days were the squeaks of his shoes echoing off the walls, followed up repeatedly by the swish of a leather ball through nylon. Five-hundred made shots every day. No exceptions. No excuses.

“I love to shoot,” said Briggs, a 6-foot-1 senior who scored a team-high 24 points Saturday to keep Muskegon undefeated with a 62-51 victory over Ferndale in the finale of the three-game Muskegon Basketball Showcase.

“I never get bored, and I could do it all day. That work I’ve put in gives me and my coaches confidence to take those shots in games. I pretty much have the green light.”

He’s not kidding.

Late in the first half Saturday, Briggs had the ball on a 2-on-1 fastbreak when he suddenly pulled up and fired a 3-pointer, which just rimmed out. Muskegon coach Keith Guy, who loves his team to constantly attack the rim, clapped his approval.

“Jordan is a pure shooter,” explained Guy, whose team is 5-0 and 1-0 in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green. “But he’s also crafty with the basketball. He can get other guys involved and he’s got it on a string, so that’s a nightmare for other teams.

“A lot of great shooters can’t hurt you off the dribble, but he can do both.”

Briggs makes his move toward the basket.Muskegon’s win Saturday was the 400th career victory for Guy as a head coach – with 191 in nine years at Muskegon Heights and 209 wins in 11 years at Muskegon.

Guy, whose tenure at Muskegon is highlighted by a Class A title in 2014 and two Mr. Basketball winners in DeShaun Thrower (2014) and Deyonta Davis (2015), has another team with the makings of a championship run and another Mr. Basketball candidate in Briggs.

Muskegon features two floor general-type point guards in senior David Day III and junior M’Khi Guy, along with a loaded front court with seven players standing 6-4 or taller, led by starting juniors Terrance Davis (6-6) and Stanley Cunningham (6-5).

A pure shooter like Briggs – a three-year starter who has committed to Wayne State – is something that Guy hasn’t always had, and might be what makes the difference in March.

Briggs had his best game of the season back on Dec. 28 at the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Classic at Reeths-Puffer High School. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was there to get a close look at recruiting target Durral Brooks of Grand Rapids Catholic Central, but it was Briggs who stole the show.

Briggs scored a game-high 35 points, including the winning bucket in overtime in an 81-79 victory.

“I just happened to catch fire that night,” said Briggs, who is a 4.0-GPA student and a National Honor Society member. “That was a great win for us and we’re rolling to start the season, which is great. But we want to keep it going and play our best basketball in March, when it really counts.”

In the Big Reds’ first league game Friday night at cross-town rival Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, Briggs got in foul trouble and didn’t score in the first half. He made amends by scoring his team’s first 12 points of the second half (on four 3-pointers), as Muskegon pulled away for a 51-26 victory.

He followed that up with his 24-point performance against Ferndale and is now averaging 24 points, six rebounds and five assists per game.

Guy hopes that, led by Briggs, this year’s team is ready for a long run – literally.

Guy made all of his varsity players that were not on the football team run cross country this fall, and not just for conditioning reasons.

“It put them out of their comfort zones, which is a good thing,” explained Guy, who is also Muskegon’s athletic director. “Take Jordan, for example. Basketball is comfortable for him. I wanted to put him in situations that weren’t as comfortable for him so that he would learn how to adapt and handle being uncomfortable a little better.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Muskegon’s Jordan Briggs (2) pulls up for a shot at the 3-point arc during his team’s win Saturday over Ferndale. (Middle) Briggs makes his move toward the basket. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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 MHSAA.com 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.)