Taratuta Tops Hillman's Leaderboard, Striving to Take Tigers on Title Pursuit

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

January 5, 2024

A lot of has been written about Hillman senior point guard Trenton Taratuta.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAnd Taratuta has re-written pretty much every basketball record in the Hillman history book as well.

He would trade everything, though, for a shot at the Breslin Center and playing in the Division 4 Boys Basketball Final.

Taratuta entered this season with 1,612 career points, leaving him only 68 away from the school scoring record.

“First things first, I am just a competitor – I want to win,” Taratuta said of his Breslin goal. “The personal accolades come along with it, but winning is everything.”

Eric Muszynski, the Tigers’ boys basketball coach for the past 19 years, guarantees his four-year starter and most decorated player in Hillman history would give up every one of his records for the chance to win at Breslin.

“The beauty of Trenton is I know he would sacrifice these individual accolades to get down to the Breslin Center,” Muszynski said. “It’s a real treat to coach him.

“You tell kids, ‘If you put the time in and hard work in, results happen,’” Muszynski continued. “It has been awesome to be able to use him as an example to a lot of our youth basketball players and some of our current players that have seen the work he’s put in and the results he is getting.”

Taratuta is the only starter returning from last year’s team that lost a 59-57 heart-breaker to Frankfort in the Quarterfinals. He did become the highest scorer in Hillman’s history during a 57-56 overtime win over Oscoda on Dec. 7. He set the mark within his team’s first bucket of the game and then won it with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that allowed him to again tie the school record for the most points in a single game with 41. 

The 6-foot-4 guard, who has scored 41 three times during his career, wants to ride the community support the entire 200-plus miles in March to Breslin. Last year’s run remains bigger to Taratuta than all his current individual records.

“My favorite memory so far is our postseason run last year,” he said. “The support we got from our community was overwhelming. 

“It was fun to see everyone come support us and the crowds we got,” he continued. “It was a great atmosphere for all the playoff games.”

Hillman is off to a 6-2 start after winning its North Star League Little Dipper opener Thursday night over Posen, 72-51, as Taratuta led with 30 points. The Tigers’ only losses this winter have been to Division 2 schools, Gaylord and Ogemaw Heights.

Taratuta considers his next move during a game against Mio.Taratuta now has 1,858 points for his career and set his sights on reaching 2,000. His coach thinks it is highly likely he’ll be able to do that and then climb toward the total accrued by the leading scorer in Michigan high school history, Jay Smith, from 1975-76 through 1978-79.  

That said, Taratuta, who is averaging more than 30 points per game this season, is unlikely to challenge Smith’s 2,841 career points – but both Taratuta and his coach also look to the record with pride as Mio is less than 40 miles down the road from Hillman.

Only 45 others in MHSAA boys hoops history have reached 2,000 career points.

“The 2,000-point mark would be pretty special,” Taratuta acknowledged. “It would be pretty cool.”

Hillman, which will host the District tournament this year, expects to ride Taratuta’s success a long way this postseason. Atlanta, Fairview, Hale, Mio and Posen are the Tigers’ potential District opponents.

“There is a lot of season left and a lot of work to be done,” Taratuta said. “I am looking forward to the rest of the season.

“I’m focused on the team’s overall success, not thinking about the points,” he continued. “Coming into this year, there were a lot of doubters and the guys have stepped up well.”

Senior center Blake Kennard is averaging 11.1 points per game and chipping in more than seven rebounds and almost three blocks. Junior 3-point specialist Brenden Rouleau is also averaging double-digit scoring.

Taratuta – who is from a family of high-scoring Hillman graduates – had his sights set on the career points record for quite a while. He was at the game in 2015 when Mason VanPamel broke Paul Bennett’s longstanding scoring record set in 1986.

“He comes from a pretty good pedigree of athletes,” Muszynski said. “His uncles Greg, Jeff and Tim Jones are all thousand-point scorers in our school, and they’re in our Hall of Fame.

Taratuta also just may be a one-of-a-kind, talented, hard-working team player, his veteran coach noted.

“Not only can he score it, he is top-five in our school’s history in every major statistical category going into his senior year,” Muszynski continued. “He is one of those guys where you’re not sure if you’re going to see somebody of that caliber again in your career.

“I was pretty fortunate to have a couple of other guys that were pretty solid, and it’s built the tradition of our basketball program to where Trenton is at.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Hillman’s Trenton Taratuta (22) gets to the basket as the crowd anticipates two points. (Middle) Taratuta considers his next move during a game against Mio. (Photos courtesy of Jonny Zawacki.)

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.)