MATTAWAN — With two sets of twins on his team, seeing double is nothing new for Mattawan boys basketball coach Ward Helakoski.
Jaden and Kelby Mabin are fraternal twins, but Matthew and Luke Pelak are identical. Telling the latter two apart was never much trouble for Helakoski, a Mattawan Middle School counselor who has known them since sixth grade, because Matthew and Luke were different sizes.
Then this year happened.
“Matt’s caught up (to Luke) this year, so that’s created some confusion,” Helakoski said. “They came in off the summer both tan from golfing,
“Hair was exactly the same. You’d almost have to look at them to see which was which. That was tougher for a while.”
Helakoski has figured it out, and the two sets of twins have found their best ways to contribute to Mattawan’s 10-0 start this winter.
The twins are four of eight seniors on the team and keys to the Wildcats’ success so far, said Helakoski, in his sixth year coaching the team. The Mabins and Matthew Pelak are starters, while Luke Pelak is first off the bench.
Between them, the Pelaks average 14 points, five rebounds and three assists per game. The Mabins combine for 13.2 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
And being a twin has its advantages, all four say.
Jaden Mabin said it is not so much the double looks he and his brother get, but “It’s just fun having a brother who’s been there with you for years right by your side.
“We always want to see each other do the best. We’re always competing. I want to get more points than you, I want to make more shots than you. It’s kind of a friendly rivalry.”
Kelby Mabin, quick with a quip, does not quite agree.
“He might think we have competition, but we don’t,” he said of his twin. “It’s a one-sided battle if it is.
“I do outscore him; I do outplay him. It’s not competition,” he added, laughing.
The Mabins have three older siblings, and Kelby is the youngest of the two by three minutes. The Pelaks are the middle two of 11 children and the only twins, with Matthew the older of the two.
The Pelaks use their friendly rivalry to keep each other sharp on the court. “We always guard each other in practice and take it at each other,” Luke Pelak said.
But being identical can be confusing to opponents and referees.
“It’s obviously a lot of fun,” Luke said. “Even my parents confuse us sometimes if we’re facing the other way.
“Kids on the court actually confuse us, too. They’ll get in arguments about who’s guarding who.”
Mattawan is anchored by 6-foot-10 Division I college prospect Nolan Foster, and has been augmented this season by the addition of 6-4 senior guard Dexter Shouse, another Division I recruit whose father Dexter played a season in the NBA and overseas.
Mattawan has a one-game lead on Stevensville Lakeshore in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West and finishing second to Kalamazoo Central in the SMAC East last winter. Jaden Mabin said a key is the team has really stepped it up on defense – the Wildcats have allowed only Lakeshore to score 50 points, and that was in a double overtime win earlier this month. He added that the team has upped its tempo as it looks to improve on last season’s 15-7 finish.
Luke Pelak adds a boost off the bench, and brother Matthew said he admires his brother’s composure as the sixth man.
“It was kind of tough seeing him not being able to start because I know how good he is, but I think he took it really well and he’s playing his role this year,” he said.
While all four enjoy the twin thing, all four are going to different colleges this fall. Of the four, only Kelby Mabin is hoping to play basketball.
“I love the talent it requires,” said Mabin, who has not yet settled on a college destination. “I feel that unlike other sports, you have to play defense and offense but you also have to have the IQ.
“It’s not just running the ball up and down the field and whoever has the most endurance, but who has the most skill and talent and athleticism.”
Jaden Mabin grew up thinking he would play basketball in college and beyond. But he opted for a football scholarship to Grand Valley State University instead although he received Division III basketball interest.
“It would be cool (to go to the same school as Kelby), but I want to be myself,” said Jaden Mabin. “I don’t want to be referred to as ‘Jaden-Kelby.’ I want ‘Jaden.’ I’ve been with him long enough.
“It’s been 17 years, so I think it’s time for us to be apart. A lot of twins dress alike. That’s not us. I want to be as opposite him as possible.”
The Pelaks are both headed to college on golf scholarships, Luke to Wayne State and Matthew to Eastern Michigan.
“It will be the first time we’re separated,” Matthew Pelak said. “It was more just wanting to have our own experiences with college, but we’re still close enough where we can hang out sometimes.
“We just wanted to have our own individual college experience.”
Tanner Knapp and Thomas Unold are the other two seniors on Mattawan’s boys basketball team. Juniors are Michael Lampos, Drew McNulty, Jalen Jones and Parker Miller. Luke Kerrins is the lone freshman on varsity. Assistant coach is Josh Brown.
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Mattawan’s Jaden Mabin (32) looks to make a move in the post. (Middle) From top left: Matthew Pelak, Luke Pelak, Kelby Mabin and Jaden Mabin. (Below) Luke Pelak works to get a shot up Friday against Portage Northern. (Action shots by Erfan Pirbhai, head shots by Pam Shebest.)
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)