Flint Beecher turns grief into glory with boys state title

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Flint Beecher’s run to the Division 3 boys basketball state championship couldn’t have been a better healing process for head coach Mike Williams after losing his father to COVID a year ago.

It wasn’t the sixth state championship that Williams had won Saturday afternoon at the Breslin Center that was so important to him, but the journey with his team.

“It’s extremely special; these kids have been my therapy,” Williams said. “This has been a long year for me and my family, losing my father to COVID, almost a year ago to the date, and Keyon (senior guard Menifield) lost his grandfather the day after my father passed, and we’ve had some other kids.

“This year has been rough, but once again the message my father left me with is take care of my kids, take care of my family. We never knew that he was going to pass or that he was sick or anything like that, he just kept pounding that on me and I don’t know why, but now I get it.

“It’s about showing strength and it’s about being an example for not just my kids, but the people in our area that have gone through what we’ve gone through and right now this is a part of healing for me and for our community and the people who have gone through this pandemic, and I’m just happy that we got to the finish line.”

Menifield had a performance his grandfather would be proud of, scoring 37 in Beecher’s 75-47 win over Iron Mountain and Mr. Basketball finalist Foster Wonders.

Menifield, a lightning-quick 5-foot-11 senior guard, made 17-of-27 shots, scoring 20 first-half points to help Beecher open up a 38-19 lead with Wonders — who finished with 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting — often guarding him.

“I don’t know anybody that wants to guard him, don’t know anybody that wants to get in front of him,” Williams said of Menifield, knowing Menifield’s ability to blow by a defender with his speed and ball-handling ability or by quickly stopping for a step-back jumper. “I’ve talked to college coaches that haven’t recruited him and I’ve told them they’re crazy. I told them they’re making a big mistake.”

It was a crazy, stressful season, pushed back for more than two months due to the pandemic with teams being quarantined and some bounced out of the tournament due to COVID issues, but Beecher was able to make it through to honor Williams’ father and Menifield’s grandfather by saving its best for the big stage.

Douglass has more than Brooks

Detroit Douglass head coach Pierre Brooks was thrilled to be able to celebrate the Division 4 state championship with his son, Pierre Brooks II, who made it happen by coming through with a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds), along with five assists in a 47-41 win over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian.

“I’ve never said this to him personally, but Pierre is the best player that I’ve ever coached and I’ve been coaching now for 22 years, and just the work that he puts in on his own, the dedication that he has to get stronger and get better every day, never had a kid like him and he just so happens to be my son, so this moment is really special for me,” Brooks said.

And, while Brooks II made his debut on his future home court, playing next year for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, 6-10 Javantae Randle also had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds), along with three blocks and making 5-of-5 free throws when just about every other player had trouble knocking down free throws in the state finals.

“Javantae has been huge for us this whole season,” Brooks said. “He’s manned the paint and he’s sacrificed his game for the team. A lot of people don’t know, but Javantae is a good perimeter player. He can shoot the basketball. He can handle the basketball, so he’s made a huge sacrifice for the team in terms of man in the middle and being a presence around the basket. In the semifinals he had eight blocked shots, so that’s invaluable.”

What Coach Brooks liked more than anything else was watching his players develop to make the state championship become reality. He knew Douglass needed production from more than just his son and Randle, and he received it with Alexander Wiltz scoring six straight points, leading up to Brooks’ 3-pointer to cap off a 9-0 run to turn a 17-11 deficit into a 22-19 halftime lead.

Then, Malik Smith scored seven, including rattling in a 3-pointer from the left corner, during a 17-8 second-half run to extend the lead to 12 (39-27).

“Malik Smith, we wouldn’t be

here as a team today if it wasn’t for him,” the elder Brooks said, “and he’s a kid that probably wouldn’t even have been on our team in regular circumstances, but he’s worked so hard and matured so much as a young man, that’s one of the reasons that I coach, not necessarily for trophies, but to help young men and see young men like that flourish and I know that will help him going forward in life. Just seeing young men like that, people like Alexander Wiltz, that’s the reason we coach and try to make a difference with these young men.”

Cabana has reason to praise Grass Lake

Grass Lake girls basketball coach Andrea Cabana praised her program for giving her the chance to celebrate the Division 3 state championship with her team Friday afternoon at the Breslin Center following a 52-50 win over No. 10 Kent City.

After all, while the majority of her team was put on quarantine due to COVID issues, Grass Lake’s JV players were elevated to the varsity team to play in the district opener and the regional semifinal games, along with Gabrielle Lutchka, who set a Michigan High School Athletic Association record by making 16 3-pointers in a game last season.

“This year has been amazing, obviously getting to this point is extremely special, especially considering the year that we’re in,” Cabana said. “I feel like we are dodging bullets left and right so to finally get to this point is nothing short of amazing.

“I definitely want to give my girls and entire team credit for this entire season. I would say that it was a total team, total program effort to get to this point and this year is the epitome of that. We were able to play younger girls and JV girls throughout the tournament to protect varsity girls from any possible quarantine, which allowed us to get to this point safely and the varsity girls were thrilled and excited for them in those wins, and then when we get to the final games like this, the varsity girls are safe, are able to play, are healthy and the girls on the bench are excited for them as well.

“It’s been absolutely exciting. It is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these girls and every single person within this program deserves so much credit for getting us to where we are.”

Teams do well with COVID testing

The MHSSA and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services joined forces to implement weekly testing since April 2 for the basketball season to conclude and for spring sports to move on with competition.

And, 55 of 56 games were able to be played during the final week of the boys and girls basketball season with Hemlock’s girls the lone team to opt out due to COVID issues in a Division 3 state semifinal on Wednesday.

Grass Lake advanced to the title game after Hemlock’s forfeit loss and defeated Kent City for the title.

Bittersweet streaks

Ypsilanti Lincoln is the lone boys basketball team in the state of Michigan that can say it hasn’t lost a state tournament game since the 2018 season. Lincoln won the Division 1 state championship in 2019, advanced to the district championship game when the season was shut down due to COVID last year and then was pushed to the sidelines in the district finals this season when it had to quarantine after an Ann Arbor Pioneer player came down with COVID. Lincoln had defeated Pioneer in a district opener, then beat Belleville in a district semifinal.

Detroit Edison’s girls basketball team hasn’t lost a state tournament game since the 2016 season, winning state titles in 2017, ’18 and ’19, then having its season come to an end due to COVID when it reached the regional finals last season, then opting out due to COVID issues just prior to the district finals this year.

Goricki’s state finals MVPs

BOYS BASKETBALL

Division 1

► RJ Taylor, So., G, Grand Blanc: Taylor had 15 points and four rebounds in a 45-36 win over Ann Arbor Huron in Grand Blanc’s first title game appearance since 1952. He scored 13 first-half points, knocking down three 3-pointers to help give his team an 18-14 second-quarter cushion.

Division 2

► Kaden Brown, So., G, Grand Rapids Catholic Central: Brown scored 25, making 9-of-21 shots in a 77-54 win over Battle Creek Pennfield, scoring 10 during a pivotal 30-9 run to open up a 63-43 lead to help GRCC finish 20-0 and win its first state championship after losing the Class B title game to Benton Harbor in overtime in 2018.

Division 3

► Keyon Menifield, Sr., G, Flint Beecher: Menifield displayed his outstanding quickness and ball-handling skills to score 37, making 17-of-27 shots in a one-sided 75-47 victory over Iron Mountain and Mr. Basketball finalist Foster Wonders.

Division 4

►Pierre Brooks II, Sr., G, Detroit Douglass: Brooks II had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists to help Douglass win its first state championship with a 47-41 victory over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian to celebrate the title with his father, Douglass coach Pierre Brooks Sr.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Division 1

►Jaci Tubergen, Jr., G, Hudsonville: Tubergen had 28 points and 12 rebounds, including a personal 11-0 run to give Hudsonville a 47-34 third-quarter lead on its way to a 65-61 win over Detroit Renaissance.

Division 2

► Ashley Bower, Jr., G, Portland: Bower had 20 points and four assists to lead Portland to a one-sided (52-32) victory over Newaygo.

Division 3

►Lexus Bargesser, Jr., G, Grass Lake: Bargesser had a strong all-around game, contributing 16 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and two assists in a 52-50 win over Kent City.

Division 4

►Mia Riley, Jr., G, Fowler: Riley had 18 points, five rebounds and three assists in a 54-20 win over Bellaire, scoring 12 of her points during the second quarter to help Fowler take a 29-7 halftime lead.

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