By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – Keith Guy believed his team had the talent, experience and momentum to make a serious run at a state championship.

We will never know if he was right, because the season ended just before his Muskegon Big Reds were about to play in a district championship game.

Muskegon Big Reds Coach Keith Guy. Photo/Tim Reilly

What we do know is that Guy has built the lakeshore area’s most successful boys basketball program over the past eight seasons, and this season was no exception.

The Big Reds finished with an outstanding 20-2 record and won an O-K Black Conference championship. They were ranked eighth in the state in Division 1, and were a very good bet to advance to regionals and perhaps beyond, before the season fell victim to COVID-19.

For producing another great team – perhaps his best since the 2014 state championship season – Guy is the Division 1-2 boys basketball Coach of the Year.

The Big Reds certainly entered the season with the tools to be very good, including nine seniors returning from a 2018-19 squad that finished 20-4.

But they were not dominant wire-to-wire, because there were challenges to overcome.

The first was the loss of about 2 ½ weeks of full-squad preseason practices, because many of the basketball players were tied up with the varsity football team, which advanced all the way to the state finals.

The Big Reds looked a bit rusty coming out of the gates. They opened the season with a 67-58 win over Rockford, then squeaked out a 52-50 victory over East Kentwood in the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Classic over the holidays.

Their third game – against Chicago Curie, the top-ranked team in Illinois – did not go well at all. Muskegon lost 60-50, leaving some to wonder if the Big Reds may not be quite as good as they were in previous seasons.

Coach Keith Guy stands on the sideline near his son, Cameron Martinez, between free-throws in Muskegon’s battle against Chicago Currie in January. Photo/Tim Reilly.

There were other close games as the season went by – a seven-point win over Grand Rapids Union, a one-point win over Ferndale, a three-point win over Saginaw, and a three-point loss to Grand Blanc.

“It’s a process,” Guy said. “We understand it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and we always want to build up to our finish.”

Through the tough games Muskegon was building momentum, and it showed in the final eight games of the season. They won six of them by huge margins – 74-43 over Belleville, 87-47 over Jenison, 91-40 over Mona Shores, 77-32 over Fruitport, 73-48 over Kenowa Hills, and 74-44 over Grand Rapids Union.

The Big Reds were clicking, and Guy was excited about the last few weeks of the season.

“I said all along that I thought we would be a (state championship) contender,” he said. “We just started to show people the potential we had later in the season. Billie (Roberts, the starting post player) was hurt for part of the season, we had lineup changes we had to tinker with, but we finally hit our stride.

“We had everything that you need. We had experience with nine seniors, we had big fellas who could hurt you in the low post, and we had depth, senior leadership, and go-to guys. We also held opponents in the low 40s, which was good.”

The strange end to the season cost the Big Reds a chance for their eighth straight district title, and cost Guy a chance to win his 17th straight. He won nine in a row as coach at Muskegon Heights before moving over to Muskegon.

“To have it abruptly end was tough, mainly for the nine seniors who put their everything into the season,” Guy said. “To not be able to have some closure was tough on them. Our goal was to win a state championship. But I do feel the MHSAA did what they could (to save the season). They fought to the end, but this thing only got worse. They made the right decision.”

Eight area players were also selected for the boys Division 1-2 All-LSJ squad, in a vote of area coaches. They are Jarvis Walker and Vern Nash III of Muskegon, Ke’ontae Barnes of Orchard View, Gavin Fisher of Fruitport, Lucas Lyyski of Spring Lake, Braiden McDonald of Fremont, Owen Ross of Grand Haven and Emcee Williams of Reeths-Puffer.