By Harold C. Ford
Genesee County comprises about four percent of the state’s population (roughly 400,000 of 10 million people), but two local school districts – Beecher on the north side of Flint, Grand Blanc on the south side – currently claim half/50 percent of the boys state championship basketball teams. Both schools won state titles a year ago in March 2021.
And both schools are steamrolling their way to possible repeat championships in the annual Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) boys basketball tournament. Both teams have reached the semifinals after quarterfinal victories on Tuesday, March 22.
In Division 3 (D3), Beecher (22 wins, 2 losses) will take on Schoolcraft (23-2) at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 24.
Grand Blanc (20-5) will take on Belleville (19-6) at 2 p.m. Friday, March 25 in a D1 matchup. The final championship games will be played on Saturday, March 26: D3 at 4:30 p.m.; D-1 at 12:15 p.m.
All remaining games take place at Michigan State University’s (MSU) Breslin Center in East Lansing.
A full schedule of playoff contents can be accessed at the MHSAA website as well as information about video/audio broadcasts and ticket sales information. Ticket prices for semifinal and final games are $12 (allows entry into two games).
Beecher and Grand Blanc have collectively eliminated ten MHSAA opponents on their way to the state semifinal contests in East Lansing.
Beecher has outscored five opponents in the MHSAA tourney by a collective points margin of 376 to 183. That’s an average winning score of 75 to 37. In the first-round District competition, Beecher ousted Vassar (80-17) and Reese (72-41). In the second -round Regional contests Beecher beat Hemlock (76-47) and Marlette (72-30). The Buccaneers, or Bucs, bested New Haven (76-48) in a quarterfinal game to move on to Thursday’s semifinal in East Lansing.
The MHSAA playoffs are one-and-done: losers go home, their season ended; winners move on.
Grand Blanc outscored its five tourney opponents 356 to 253. That’s an average winning score of 71 to 51. The Bobcats put Lapeer (78-42) and Oxford (66-32) out of the tournament at the District level. They ousted Carman-Ainsworth (65-58) and Petoskey (80-61) in Regional competition. In its quarterfinal contest, Grand Blanc eliminated Detroit Catholic Central (67-60) to get to Friday’s semifinal in East Lansing.
Losing and winning
The boys basketball programs at both Beecher and Grand Blanc each had to adjust to a significant loss –both named Williams – as they entered the 2021-22 season.
Beecher’s most successful basketball coach ever, Mike Williams, took his coaching talents to a new position at Davison High School at the start of the 2021-22 school year. Last year, Williams coached the Bucs all the way to a D3 state championship game victory over Iron Mountain (53-52).
In D3 (or Class C prior to 2019), Williams led the Bucs to six state championships in the past nine years the MHSAA tournament had been held. The tourney was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.
Altogether, the Beecher boys basketball program has claimed nine state championships (1976, 1985, 1987, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2021) and has been runner-up four times (1986, 2000, 2003, 2008).
Grand Blanc lost its best player from last year’s state championship team. Tyson Williams, 2021 Associated Press D1 Player of the Year, transferred to the Chicago area’s Thornton High School. Despite the loss of Williams, Grand Blanc coach Mike Thomas has his team headed back to the Breslin at MSU.
Beecher’s “David” vs. Grand Blanc’s “Goliath”
On March 3, D3 Beecher traveled to D1 Grand Blanc for a much-anticipated matchup witnessed by some 3,000 fans. Grand Blanc prevailed by a 68-57 score giving Beecher only its second loss; the other was administered by Detroit King, the top-ranked team in D1.
Michigan’s four basketball divisions are based on a school district’s student population. D1 schools have the largest student populations, D4 schools the least. In Michigan, there are about 186 schools in each of the four divisions.
Grand Blanc has the largest student count in Genesee County at nearly 8,000 students; Beecher is way down the list with about 650. Nonetheless, only five players at a time get onto the basketball court and the Beecher community is certain it’s found a formula for success in boys basketball.
Knowledgeable Beecher fans point to the coaching tandem of Mike Bedore and Moses Lacy in the 1970s and 1980s as the launchpad for the school’s successful basketball program.
In 1976, Bedore led the Bucs to its first state championship ever with a win over perennial powerhouse River Rouge (80-76), a program built by the legendary Lofton Greene. Eventually, Lacy took the helm and led the Bucs to two more championships in 1985 and 1987.
Three Beecher grads were asked by East Village Magazine to reflect on the reason(s) for the success of their alma mater:
- Marquise Gray, Beecher boys basketball coach: “All of us (basketball coaches and athletic director) are Beecher grads; so this program, the school, the community holds a special place in all our hearts … All of us are doing what was done for us and that’s giving back.”
- Lance Sumpter, Beecher High School principal: “Our kids have that fight in them. The legacy in the district is amazing, and the boys know that when they put that Beecher red on, they have to bring Buc pride, intensity, character, and determination onto the basketball court.”
- Tim Smith, class of 1983: “We’ve always had excellent basketball teams, somewhat of a dynasty … It’s our athleticism and our speed, our defense. Our press has always been our bread and butter.”
Mike Thomas, boys basketball head coach, is sowing similar seeds at Grand Blanc. He told ABC12 that he purposely created a difficult schedule at season’s start “to challenge our guys … to see what they were made of early … The guys stepped up to the challenge.”
EVM Sports Beat reporter Harold Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.