Winston Caps Legacy with 1st Jesuit Title

March 26, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — By most measures, Cassius Winston had a highly successful high school basketball career.

He was a four-year starter on a Detroit U-D Jesuit team that reached the Breslin Center three times, earning a scholarship to Michigan State University and the Mr. Basketball Award. 

But Winston didn't become great by settling for less than perfection.

And now he has what is undeniably the perfect ending to a glorious career. 

Embracing the pressure of performing on the biggest stage in the sport, Winston scored 31 points and dished out nine assists in the Cubs' 69-49 victory over North Farmington in the MHSAA Class A championship game Saturday at the Breslin Center. 

It was the first MHSAA title for U-D Jesuit, which romped through the Class A tournament to complete a 28-0 season. The Cubs had never gone as far as the Quarterfinals until Winston led them to Semifinal appearances in 2014 and 2015 before taking them all the way this season.

Winston's legacy is now complete. 

"I believe in order for you to say you were one of the best high school players or whatever — and I may not be one of the best — but to say you had a completely successful high school career, you have to win championships," Winston said.

Winston lived up to his considerable hype, going 14 for 16 on the court he will call home as a college player. He drove to the basket at will, while also going 2 for 3 from 3-point range.

"It's definitely a good feeling, knowing that I'm capable of playing that way in this gym," Winston said. "The past couple times, it didn't look too good on this floor, but today I got it going. It's just the perfect moment. State championship. Great game. Then I'm headed right back here in a couple months, so it's the perfect way to end it."

Winston is the first to recognize that he would not have enjoyed a perfect ending to his career without a strong supporting cast. Scott Nelson scored 13 points off the bench, Ikechukwu Eke had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Gregory Eboigbodin had eight points and eight rebounds for the Cubs.

"Everything you want in a basketball team, we have," Winston said. "We have Matt Schearer. I don't think he took a shot today, maybe one. He doesn't mind. He's gonna play defense, he's gonna get rebounds, he's gonna do what you need to do. We've got Ike and Greg, who average 10 points and 10 rebounds. We've got dudes who come off the bench. Everything you like in your basketball team, we have this year. That's why we became successful."

The Cubs became the first Detroit Catholic League school to win the Class A championship since Detroit Catholic Central in 1976. The Catholic League had won two titles over three seasons at that time, with Birmingham Brother Rice winning in 1974.

"Eight years ago, I sat in front of a search committee and I told them I thought U of D was a great place," said Pat Donnelly, who has a 142-42 record in eight seasons with the Cubs. "It had the academics. It had great tradition. I thought this was a place we could win a state championship.

"I have to give credit to the guys who have played in our program from the time I got there, how they accepted me, accepted a culture change in how I operate and how we operate as a program. Every year, we've gotten better."

Jesuit never trailed, scoring the first six points of the game on baskets by three players.

Perhaps the biggest indication it wasn't North Farmington's day came when it had a chance to take its only lead – and a dunk off a steal missed with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Cubs, who were leading 16-15 at the time, responded by scoring eight straight points to begin a 14-2 run.

North Farmington got within 34-27 late in the first half, but Jesuit scored the final five points of the half to take a 39-27 lead into the break.

By halftime, Winston had 22 points on 10 for 11 shooting.

"We felt like if we could try to keep Cassius out of the paint, we'd give ourselves a chance," North Farmington coach Todd Negoshian said. "That's the best I've seen him play in four years. I don't know if it was the big stage or his final game, but that's the Cassius Winston that's going to Michigan State."

North Farmington couldn't get closer than 12 points in the second half, that coming when Jacob Joubert hit a 3-pointer with 6:43 left in the third quarter. A 9-3 run after that gave the Cubs a comfortable cushion the rest of the way.

Nelson scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter to help Jesuit maintain a safe margin over the Raiders.

Billy Thomas, who had 21 points in the Semifinals as a sophomore at Jesuit two years ago, led North Farmington with 23 points.

"That's my brother," Winston said of Thomas. "I want the best for him. Of course, we're playing for a state championship, so we have to limit the best."

The Raiders were 0 for 9 from 3-point range in the first half and 5 for 24 for the game. Jesuit shot 29 for 46 (63 percent) from the floor, including 5 for 13 from beyond the arc.

The Raiders finished 24-3, reaching the championship game after never having been beyond the Regionals.

"I can't say enough about this group of kids, what they've meant to our program, what they've meant to our school and to our community," Negoshian said. "They've left an impression and a footprint, not just from a basketball standpoint, but from a life standpoint on how to behave, how to carry yourself, how to represent yourself and your family in the proper way. This goes way beyond the basketball court. There's not enough words to describe how proud I am of them."

Click for the full box score.

The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cassius Winston drives toward the basket during Detroit U-D Jesuit's Class A championship game win Saturday. (Middle) North Farmington's Alex Darden (31) tries to get a hand on a shot by Scott Nelson (10).

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.

Southwest CorridorIt reads "In Jesus' name we play."

Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to  God.

"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.

Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.

The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.

Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.

With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.

"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."

Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.

The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.

"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.

Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.

"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."

Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.

"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.

Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.

"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."

In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.

"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.

The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.

"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”

Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.

"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.

"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”

"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."

Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.

The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.

Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.

"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."

Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.

"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."


The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.

Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.

"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."

Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.

Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)