EAST GRAND RAPIDS – Macy Brown remembers spending her Saturday mornings with her older sisters scrambling around gymnasiums when she was no older than a first grader.
The long and winding journey from those early days to a sterling career at East Grand Rapids is one chronicled by overcoming the gangly body of a middle schooler, surrendering interest in two other sports in favor of basketball, countless hours of AAU, critical advice from two older sisters, a misfortunate accident to a teammate as a junior that necessitated a position switch and eventually to sorting through scholarship offers from a handful of elite college programs.
It's a path that concluded this week with the Pioneers’ point guard not only becoming one of just 1.3 percent of high school players to accept a Division I scholarship, but also being named winner of the prestigious Miss Basketball Award as the state's top senior player.
It's a long way from those weekend mornings to becoming the school's all-time leading scorer, a four-year starter, all-stater and Miss Basketball winner – and a story that Brown says exceeds anything she could have imagined.
"It's been amazing, magical at times," Brown said. "You don't realize how you've spent your time until it's over. There were a lot of sacrifices, but you also gain so much with the relationships you've had through basketball."
The journey started at the East Hills center in Grand Rapids with older sisters Oliva and Jillian, both of whom are currently playing Division I college basketball, and their mother Noelle, who ran an AAU program. It was the first time Macy Brown recalls taking an interest in the sport and began taking stock of what it would take to play basketball at the high school or possibly even college level.
By the time Brown entered middle school, she was all of 5-foot-9 with skills that while encouraging, were far from a guarantee that a long basketball bloodline would be extended by one more daughter. In fact, it was the first time Brown was spotted by EGR coach Troy Hammond, who recalls her as anything but the player who would become the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,537 points while starting all 86 of the team's games over four varsity seasons.
"She was a tall, lanky kid who was just figuring her body out," Hammond said, "She was a tag-along with her sisters. She was always smiling, a happy-go-lucky kid who loved being in the gym. But I would be lying if I said she would be as good or better than the experiences I had with her sisters. That was no foregone conclusion."
Still, Brown stuck it out and slowly made progress, both mentally and physically. Boosted by advice from her sisters, Brown's on-court talent began to take shape. She also grew about three inches and began hitting the weight room to gain strength. As she entered middle school, she elected to give up lacrosse and soccer to spend more time playing basketball. Armed by having additional time for basketball, she threw herself into even more AAU ball. College coaches who constantly mine the AAU circuit for emerging talent began to notice Brown, who received her first scholarship offer from Loyola of Chicago following her eighth-grade season.
Despite the interest, however, Brown knew she had to become a better player.
"I was pretty good, but you don't realize how big of a leap it is from middle school to high school," said Brown, who had no second thoughts about becoming a single-sport athlete. "I grew up around basketball, it was always my first sport. I couldn't see playing lacrosse or soccer past high school."
Brown was good enough to make EGR's varsity as a freshman, She averaged 11.7 points per game in her inaugural season and gained additional attention from playing on a 22-1 team that would have been in contention for a Division 1 title if the season hadn't been cancelled because of COVID-19.
Brown continued to hone her game, averaging 13.5 points as a sophomore. She made all-conference for a second time and also made her college choice: she would become a Michigan Wolverine.
"When you know, you know," she said. "I knew I would wind up at Michigan because when I went other places, I would always compare them to Michigan. It just felt like home."
Brown said she relied on her sisters to know what required her utmost attention during the recruitment period. Olivia started at St. Bonaventure and now plays at Valparaiso, while Jillian is at Northwestern. Both offered crucial advice on how to pick a school.
"It definitely helped playing against them. I would get beat on, but it helped me," Macy said. "It was all for the best because it helped me become a better player."
It was after picking her college that Brown's career took another significant step forward. The Pioneers' senior point guard, Ally Carlson, who now plays at Western Michigan, suffered a season-ending ACL injury before senior-year practice began. The injury meant Brown, who had been a shooting guard her first two seasons, would have to move to point. She had to transition from becoming the team's second or even third offensive option to someone counted on to score points. She responded by averaging 22.4 as a junior and tossing in 25 points per game this season.
"I watched her develop into a leader, both as a person and on the court," Hammond said. "To see that development as a coach, it was wonderful."
Brown's improvement as a player included serious self-reflection. She admits to being the kind of athlete who maps out goals and then isn't satisfied until she reaches them.
"Every year was a checkpoint for me," she said. "I worked hard every offseason, and I would always notice what it took to play the game."
While the book on her high school career closes with the Miss Basketball Award, another door is opened in Ann Arbor. Brown said if she were to speak to a room full of young basketball wannabes, her advice would be simple. Brown was once in their position, and better than anyone else knows what it takes to conquer the next step in moving up the basketball ladder.
"It's definitely step by step, and you have to learn from your experiences," she said. "You make sacrifices, but you can gain so much."
PHOTOS (Top) Macy Brown is this season's Miss Basketball Award winner. (Middle) Brown and her sisters celebrate her award this week. (Top photo by Steve Vedder. Middle photo courtesy of the East Grand Rapids athletic department.)
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.
It 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."
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.
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 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.)