By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING — Even in their own city, even after all they'd accomplished this season, Detroit Western International's basketball players were somewhat of a curiosity when they showed up at Calihan Hall to play in the MHSAA Class A Quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Western had been this far only twice in its long history — and neither occasion was recent history. The Cowboys reached the Quarterfinals in 1922 and the semifinals in 1974, long before any of the current players were born.
"That's why so many eyebrows were raised," junior guard Brailen Neely said. "When we were at Calihan, they hear Western and they're like, 'Western? They've never had a program.'"
The Cowboys do now — the undisputed No. 1 program in Michigan in 2014-15.
Western completed a perfect season by beating sixth-ranked Saginaw Arthur Hill, 62-59, in the MHSAA Class A championship game Saturday at the Breslin Center.
The Cowboys finished 26-0, including a 69-57 overtime victory over Arthur Hill in their second game. On only five occasions did a team come within single digits of Western. It was the first MHSAA championship in any sport for the school, which was the 1972 Class A runner-up in baseball and had been past the Regionals only five times in bracketed sports.
"It's really big for the community," senior guard Josh McFolley said. "The community hasn't had this in a very long time. It's really big for the school. It's really big for coach (Derrick McDowell) and the team. We've worked hard for this from day one."
Not only has Western historically played in the shadows of Detroit's powerful programs, but the Cowboys were coming off a season in which they gave little indication that they would take the state by storm this winter. Western showed promise two years ago, going 12-7 in McDowell's second season at the school, but the Cowboys slumped to 6-13 last winter.
Even Neely admits he never expected such a dramatic turnaround.
"I thought we would do better, but never state champs," said Neely, who was on the varsity as a freshman.
Neely said the big difference was that the team paid better attention to McDowell, who coached now-defunct Detroit Redford to Class A runner-up finishes in 1997 and 2002.
"It was a process," Neely said. "Our freshman year, we were young and had only one senior. We had a lot of growing to do. Our next year, our 10th-grade year, we thought we had it. We weren't listening. We were knuckleheads, and it showed in our game. We didn't have our best year. People weren't coming to see us, which humbled us. This year, we're on coach Mac's page and he led us to tremendous success."
With sophomore Brian Bowen scoring 10 of his game-high 21 points in the second quarter, Arthur Hill (24-4) grabbed a 25-21 lead heading into halftime.
There were seven lead changes in less than four minutes during the third quarter before Western took the lead for good at 33-32 on two free throws by Neely with 2:28 to go in the period. Those shots ignited what proved to be a decisive 16-2 run, as Western's lead grew to 47-34 with 5:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.
McFolley overcame an ankle sprain that he sustained before halftime to lead the surge, scoring 10 points during the third quarter. He hit two 3-pointers and scored twice when he stole the ball and went in for layups. He limped noticeably after the game, but showed no signs of the injury during the second half.
"I knew the adrenaline was going to go through me," McFolley said. "I was going to forget about the pain. It's the biggest game of my career. My team needed me. I had to go back out there."
With Bowen scoring nine fourth-quarter points, the Lumberjacks battled back to within four points twice in the final minute. Nate Moore scored with four seconds left to get Arthur Hill within three, but the Lumberjacks were out of timeouts and Western didn't need to inbound the ball.
"We knew it was going to be tough," McDowell said. "We played them the first time down in Detroit. They were up 13 at the half. The only way we got back in the game was from the defense the first time we played them. At halftime, that was the big emphasis, getting them in the full court, making them work to get down the court. We kind of looked at it like a football field where you have to work to get to the goal line."
Western was led by McFolley with 19 points and Gerald Blackshear with 16 points and 12 rebounds. As transfer students this winter, neither played in the first Arthur Hill game or during their team’s 8-0 start.
"To be honest with you, I knew they were coming, but I had all the pieces anyway," McDowell said. "Those were just extra pieces, I thought. We weren't looking for them to come in and be Superman and Batman and save us. We had enough to win, which showed early in the year when we won without them. What that did was shut up the naysayers who thought the only way we could do it was with those two. We proved them wrong. When they became eligible, it just added to it."
Karim Murray added 15 points for the Cowboys.
Arthur Hill fell short in its bid to win its third MHSAA title to go with championships in 1944 and 2006.
Guard Eric Davis, the Mr. Basketball runner-up, placed the burden for the loss on his shoulders.
"We just missed a couple of opportunities," said Davis, who had 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. "I take full responsibility for today's effort and our loss today. I want to thank my teammates and our coaching staff. They did a great job this year. I take full responsibility. I feel like I didn't step up like I needed to, but I've just got to move on now."
Arthur Hill coach Greg McMath appreciated the show of leadership from his four-year star, but wouldn't let Davis take the blame.
"Like I told Eric (Friday) night, he's a kid who really transformed himself and put the program back where we wanted it to be, because he sacrificed a lot for his team, becoming a point guard and cutting down on his scoring to get everybody else involved to help these guys get better," McMath said. "We're a team. We win as a team; we lose as a team. Him accepting that, we'll take it, but we know it's not his fault, because he gave it everything he had."
Billy Burton had 10 points for Arthur Hill.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Western International’s Josh McFolley celebrates with his teammates the school’s first MHSAA championship. (Middle) Arthur Hill’s Eric Davis (10) works to get around McFolley.
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.