State champion Big Reds are a hybrid of players from two schools, guided by a coach who believed in their potential

The Muskegon Big Reds have done what very few teams have done in the history of Michigan high school basketball.

JG column logo instoryWith Saturday’s dominating win over Bloomfield Hills, Muskegon completed a perfect 28-0 season, capturing a Class A state title in the process.

Muskegon is only the 19th team in Michigan history to finish with a perfect season. The Big Reds also won the school’s first state basketball title since 1937.

Now that the trophy is secured and headed for the Big Red case at Redmond-Potter Gymnasium (which is one of the most historical and interesting trophy cases around), it’s interesting to consider the background of this championship team.

After all, the Big Reds are a hybrid team, comprised of a head coach and a roster full of key players from two different schools.

It’s almost as if Muskegon and Muskegon Heights merged into one school district.

Of course that didn’t happen. But the fact is that Coach Keith Guy left Muskegon Heights, and took the Muskegon coaching and athletic director job, when his former employer hit a financial crisis a few years ago and the future of the sports program was up in the air.

The same is true for Muskegon’s “Mr. Basketball,” Deshaun Thrower, who joined numerous other gifted athletes in transferring from Muskegon Heights to other schools during the crisis.

What if that crisis hadn’t occurred and Guy, Thrower and the other Heights transfers had stayed put?

Certainly Muskegon Heights would have thrived. The Tigers advanced to the Class C state semifinals this year, even without the coach and players who transferred. They might have been a shoo-in for a state championship if everyone had stayed.

But would the Big Reds have been state champs? Would Thrower have been named “Mr. Basketball” at a Class C school?

It seems as though the Muskegon Heights crisis – which resulted in the transformation of the district into a public charter school – may have been a huge blessing for two basketball programs.

As stated, Heights is doing just fine with the players who stayed. But Muskegon ended up with a very special blend of players who clicked beyond anyone’s dreams, and could very well be one of the best prep basketball teams in the history of the state.

There they were – Thrower, William Roberson, Joeviair “Hiphop” Kennedy and Jordadan Waire from Muskegon Heights forming a perfect combination with a Big Red original like Deyonta Davis (not to mention many other key contributors).

Only fate brought them together on the same team, at a high school that hadn’t been a major basketball power in a very long time.

The key to it all is obviously Guy. He was the right coach to guide this talented mix of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights players.

Guy may come across as strict at times, but he’s a man of deep faith who loves his players, and it showed this season.

Guy’s type of passionate leadership is indispensable at an inner-city school like Muskegon. A lot of the young athletes grow up in rough neighborhoods where they are surrounded by crime, drugs and pressure to become involved with the wrong type of peer groups.

Guy saw the potential in his team – from a basketball and human perspective – and kept his players on the right track. That’s not always easy to do.  Just look at this year’s Muskegon Heights team, which lost two starters on the eve of the season opener when the boys allegedly robbed a cab driver at gun point.

Nobody is suggesting Heights coach Del Stewart could have done anything to prevent that. He actually deserves a great deal of credit for saving the Tiger program and maintaining its level of quality, despite that unforeseen setback.

But Guy managed to keep a team full of talented players intact, working together unselfishly on the court, and out of the way of trouble. His careful and caring guidance of this team had an  enormous impact, as the players themselves admit.

In the press conference after the Big Reds’ championship win, Thrower called Guy “another father” figure to him and his teammates. He talked about how Guy held this team accountable, but was always willing to be there when needed.

“I been playing for coach since I came out of the 8th grade and we have a bond and a relationship,” said Thrower, who also played for Guy at Muskegon Heights. “He’s like another father, he looks after me on and off the court and he’s going to continue to do that even after high school. That’s what’s good about him.”

Perhaps Guy’s secret to success – what drove him to work so hard on behalf of the kids in his charge – is his faith in God.

After Saturday’s game, Guy talked about a spiritual aspect that many people are afraid to discuss in the public world today.

“We want to give God the glory for this championship,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming for us. (Muskegon has) been trying to climb this mountain for years.
“God placed this opportunity before us for a reason and I believe he ordained this, this is why we’re here.”

The players, of course, deserve credit for listening to their coach and other mentors and reaching the pinnacle of success. That goes for the players at Muskegon and Muskegon Heights.

At one point or another, we are all called upon by leaders to rise above the masses and do something extraordinary in life. Most of us fall short.

Despite the potential obstacles in their daily lives, these kids got it done.

It’s a testament to good coaching, leadership, caring and faith. Talent is common. Talented groups that attain greatness are rare.

So we salute the young athletes of Muskegon High School (and Muskegon Heights), who made this basketball season so exceptional and inspirational.

They showed us all that nothing is beyond reach, as long as you keep your eyes on the prize, listen to those who are there to guide you, and refuse to quit until the trophy is safely installed in the school case.

 

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