Beecher celebrates its first basketball state title since 1987. (Photo via Ryan Slocum)
By Patrick Hayes
Beecher coach Mike Williams has always talked about the importance of ‘the journey.’
After heart-breaking losses in the state semifinals in back-to-back seasons, it was Williams’ focus on the journey rather than individual outcome of playoff games that kept his Bucs resilient. This year, they completed that journey, dominating Traverse City St. Francis to capture the school’s first basketball state championship since 1987.
Two seasons ago, Williams led a young Beecher team that lost two of its best returning players (Javontae Hawkins and T’aron Boose) to transfers, started the season 0-5 and many didn’t expect much out of the allegedly rebuilding squad. Beecher improved over the season, made up for their size and experience deficiencies by playing exceedingly hard and overachieved their way all the way to the state semis. In those semis, reality set in as Beecher was blown out by a talented and playoff-tested Melvindale team that featured a Mr. Basketball candidate (Michael Talley III) and went on to win the state title. Just part of the journey — Beecher’s young guards could certainly learn from what Talley was able to do to them and the intensity level the entire team would need to play at to compete that deep in the playoffs.
Last year, Beecher returned nearly its entire roster from the previous season and spent most of the season ranked No. 2 in Class C. Monte Morris was the Class C Player of the Year and Beecher established itself as one of the best teams in the state regardless of class. Once again, they returned to the semifinals and they held a late lead in their game against McBain, a team that didn’t have as much speed or talent as the Bucs. This time, the Bucs were the experienced team featuring the highly rated player, but unfortunately, the result didn’t change from the previous season. Late mistakes allowed McBain to pull off the improbable upset and send Beecher home despite being the clear favorite of the remaining four teams in Class C that season. As Brendan Loy of The Mid Majority says, ‘This Game Will Hurt You.’ The journey strikes again.
But this year? The journey paid off. Beecher learned how heart-breaking losing can be, so they just didn’t lose, finishing the season 28-0. Simple enough. On the court, Beecher did everything it was supposed to do this season. In the final game, Monte Morris was the do-everything force. Antuan Burks was the ball-hawking defensive terror he’s been known for being and helped shoulder the scoring load. Cortez Robinson got his long arms in passing lanes, defended much bigger players well and moved without the ball on offense, catching passes from Beecher’s pass-happy guards. Jequarius French bullied his way for rebounds and layups under the basket. Beecher’s press created the turnovers and easy scoring opportunities it always does, and Beecher’s depth kept a ready supply of fresh, fast, skilled athletes on the floor at all times.
Everything went according to plan today, but what wasn’t visible was just how long that plan — that journey — has been worked on and perfected. Beecher has had a singular goal the last three seasons, and went to work every single day pursuing this state championship. The goal consumed the team, but what I’ve always admired about Williams is he wasn’t obsessed with the outcome. One of my favorite quotes he ever game me when I was on the Flint basketball beat came after a tough loss. Williams said, “To hell with winning or losing, I just love my kids.”
Now, compare that with his quote from AP reporter Dave Hogg after winning a state title today: “This is a tough time for Flint, and these kids have gone through things in their lives that you just can’t imagine. This team has shown their generation of kids in Flint that they can be successful off the streets.”
On today’s Fox Sports Detroit pregame show, Williams also said, “If we go out and lose this game but our kids are successful in life, then we’ve won.”
It’s impossible not to admire how the Beecher program is run (and actually, that starts at the top of their athletics program with Athletic Director Courtney Hawkins). Today was a culmination of years of work that Williams and his team have put in to accomplish this championship. But what I’ve always admired more is that, although Williams undoubtedly wants to win as much as anyone, he never loses sight of the bigger picture, of the more important lessons that he has a chance to use sports to convey to his kids. Win or lose, he always understands the moment and he understands how to teach his kids to productively channel their emotions. To me, he’s simply the best high school basketball coach in Michigan. He didn’t need the championship today to validate that, but hopefully it helps him start to get the recognition he deserves for what he and his kids have built at Beecher.