Up North Challenge is West Michigan Lakers’ Third Straight Tournament Win

The West Michigan Lakers celebrate their first U.N.C. title since 2011.
The West Michigan Lakers celebrate their first U.N.C. title since 2011.

The West Michigan Lakers solidified their status at a top 5 17U team in the state, as did the Michigan Titans as a top 5 16U squad, when the Lakers won their third-straight tournament the Up North Challenge holding off the Titans in OT 65-63. It was the Lakers’ third straight tournament win, following the Camp Darryl Classic and their own Tulip Tipoff.

  • 17U All-Tounament Team
  • Caleb Cooper  5-8  So  Michigan Titans 16U (Holt)
  • Ben Feldpausch  6-1  Jr  Championship Sports (St. Johns)
  • Zack Nieuwkoop  6-8  Jr  West Michigan Lakers (Wayland)
  • Jake VanTubbergen  6-5  Jr  West Michigan Lakers (West Ottawa)
  • Chaz Woods  6-1  Jr  Tri-City Heat (Saginaw)

The Lakers are similar to last year’s UNC 17U champion, Detroit Showtime, in that their scholarship talent didn’t switch to other programs, and they just play well together. The Lakers were constructed well for the tired legs and attrition found as the spring season concludes, because of their depth. Nothing came easy Sunday, as the Lakers trailed much of the game against the Titans, and did similarly in a semifinal 46-43 grinder with Championship Sports. In the quarterfinals they got by Northern Michigan Drive and the best forward in the division not a Laker, 6-7 Negaunee junior Trent Bell. But Bell, active as he was, had to face a plethora of bigs with top 5 2017 power forward 6-8 Zack Nieuwkoop from Wayland; a pair of shooters 6-7 Austin Branagan from Lowell and 6-8 Daniel Ray from Western Michigan Christian; and 6-7 rebounder and lane enforcer Ryan Gamm from Rockford. That size allows top 5 2017 forward Jake VanTubbergen from West Ottawa to create from the wing.

The Lakers finish the spring season with a 35-5 record, tying the best mark in program history with the 2011 team. Not coincidentally, that was the last time they won the Up North Challenge. The 2016 group doesn’t have the backcourt size like the 2011 team did, as no one in the three-guard rotation of Wayland junior Avery Hudson, Sparta junior Justin Bradford and Jenison junior Harry Hevelhurst is 6 feet, but each fills a niche.

  • Previous 5 Up North Challenge 17U Champs
  • 2015 Detroit Showtime (MVP Cedric Lattimore)
  • 2014 ACB/Bank Hoops (MVP Corey Redman)
  • 2013 Dorian’s Pride (MVP Kyle Kuzma)
  • 2012 Mid-Michigan Lakers (MVP JD Tisdale)
  • 2011 West Michigan Lakers (MVP Coreontae DeBerry)

The Titans are a fun club to watch because they’ve played together so long they have synergy and were able to compete against and beat older teams. Holt sophomore guard Caleb Cooper is small but fearless and had 20 in the championship game. He’s joined in the backcourt by another Holt sophomore Arquavious King a tough deal on either end at 5-11, 220 and a shooter who always seemed to have an answer 5-11 Williamston sophomore Cole Kleiver. He defended with toughness and made smart choices with the ball. Kleiver played in the Class B state final in March, and Titans teammate Marquez Gordon was the only 10th-grader to play in the Class A semifinals for Lansing Everett. He’s 6-4 and bouncy, gives a good second effort on the glass and dunked easily off of two feet. Another with high-end varsity experience is 6-4 sophomore Noah Schon from East Lansing which went 20-0 in the regular season. He knocked down four three-pointers in the championship game. He didn’t score in the final but still had all-tournament consideration so that tells you how well 6-7 Williamston junior Derek Nicholson did all the dirty work for the Titans. He got up for rebounds and on the floor for 50/50 balls.  Even on a bad ankle Nicholson competed and gave nothing easy to the Lakers’ deep frontcourt.

Making the all-tournament team were the 17U division’s best all-around guard Tri-City Heat’s Chaz Woods a 6-1 junior from Saginaw Heritage who is transferring to Saginaw High. He has an easy handle and plays a heads up game that is creative whether fast or slower paced. His feel for contact and ability to extend allow Woods to finish well despite not being particularly strong. Ben Feldpausch, a 6-1 junior from St. Johns, knocked down six three-pointers for Championship Sports in their semifinal loss to the Lakers.

Up North Challenge 16U Title is Elite Nation’s

Elite Nation captured the 16U crown at the seventh-annual Up North Challenge.
Elite Nation captured the 16U crown at the seventh-annual Up North Challenge.

Injuries and roster attrition are commonplace for AAU in May, and for Elite Nation’s 16U it’s no different as they entered the Up North Challenge sans top prospect Jacob Boonyasith. But even without the Jenison sophomore, sidelined resting a foot injury, Elite Nation had enough firepower to win the UNC title, beating the North Oakland Wolfpack in the semifinals and Grand Rapids Storm in the title game.

  • 16U All-Tournament Team
  • Karl Brooks  6-4  So  Elite Nation (Lansing Sexton)
  • Ryan Dunn  6-4  So  Grand Rapids Storm (Forest Hills Central)
  • Matt Malcolm  6-3  So  North Oakland Wolfpack (Plymouth Christian)
  • Mason Pline  6-6  So  Elite Nation (Fowler)
  • Jaylon Rogers  6-1  So  Parallel 45 (Frankfort)

Mason Pline could be a special player for Elite Nation. The 6-6 and thick sophomore from Fowler gets off two feet easily to finish above the rim, defends and rebounds a wide area and knocks down three-pointers. Pline is joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Karl Brooks, a 6-4 15-year-old football phenom who made plays around the rim all weekend.

Elite Nation’s point guard Malik Jones is a unicorn, a 5-6 sophomore guard who doesn’t have to dominate the ball overdribbling or launching spectacular shots by necessity. Instead, just like he did starting in the winter for East Lansing, Jones kept the ball hot among the myriad scoring threats ENB seemed to have on the floor at all times. Another standout guard was Garvin Crout a 6-2 sophomore from Ypsilanti. His shot lacks arc but tended to go in, and he was active and made some plays defensively.

Runner-up Storm was led by a kid who has intrigued me all spring. He’s the best 2018 prospect in their program, Ryan Dunn a 6-4 sophomore point guard from Forest Hills Central. He shuts things down defensively with his wingspan and gets hands on a lot of balls. Smooth and creative in the lane where he unfurls at the hoop to score and draw fouls. Also for the Storm, 6-4 Jenison soph Colton Ritsema is country strong on the block and can hit from 20; 6-4 Rockford sophomore Nate Carlson is another active player with length; and 5-11 FHC sophomore Tyler George is a dangerous spot-up shooter.

The Up North Challenge’s 16U field was deep with talent. ENB and the Storm had to get past a pair of the state’s top 10 teams in that age group, North Oakland Wolfpack and Parallel 45, in the semifinals. The Wolfpack had won 20 consecutive games before running into the West Michigan Lakers in pool play. Matt Malcolm, a 6-3 sophomore from Plymouth Christian, made the all-tournament team from the Wolfpack. He can shoot or finish above the rim. Like the Wolfpack, Parallel 45 saw a streak end, as in their previous six events they were eliminated by the tournament champion. P45 had a rugged bracket that included a 2OT win over CGR and one of the state’s top sophomores, 6-3 Ottawa Hills sophomore Nelson McCauley, then a last-second three-pointer from 6-1 Frankfort soph Jaylon Rogers to beat TEAM Basketball.

Champs True to Their Name, Claim U.N.C 15U Crown

Superior point guard play and overall team size closing things down defensively powered Championship Sports Gold to the 15U title of the seventh-annual Up North Challenge. They got by APT in the semifinals and then the West Michigan Lakers in the final both with relative ease.

  • 15U All-Tournament
  • Isaiah Bridges  6-4  Fr  Program by GWE (Midland)
  • Will Eldred  5-9  Fr  APT (Otsego)
  • Nate Flannery  5-8  Fr  Champ Sports (DeWitt)
  • Louis Irrer 6-1  Fr  Champ Sports (St. Johns Home School)
  • Ben Leeka  6-2  Fr  West Michigan Lakers (Holland)

It starts at the point for Championship Sports Gold, with Nate Flannery a 5-8 freshman from DeWitt. The time he’s put into his game is apparent in how well he already executes the mundane but crucial, such as the spin and velocity on his passes. Too many guards are just chucking it because all their scoring avenues are blocked, whereas Flannery has a plan and intent and made Champ Sports’ plethora of shooters that much better. Good both pushing it or when the game slowed down. Would like to see him operate the left side of the floor as readily as the right, and get a more consistent shot.

Chief among said shooters was Louis Irrer, a 6-1 freshman from St. Johns Home School. He was money with the corner three-pointer and also cut well to get opportunities inside the arc too. Champ Sports has depth up front with 6-5 Pewamo-Westphalia freshman Andre Smith; 6-1 Gaylord freshman Blake Charboneau was playing on two bad ankles but still had enough athleticism and toughness to produce; and 6-3 McBain freshman Garrett VerBerkmoes came off the bench to block shots and get tough rebounds in traffic.

There were two standout point guards in Championship Sports’ semifinal win, Flannery and APT’s Will Elred, who could be the next Jared Klein out of Otsego. He’s one of the smoothest three-point shooters in the 2019 class and will also defend.

Making the all-tournament teams was one of the top prospects in the 15U field, 6-4 Isaiah Bridges of The Program presented by GreenWood Elite, who is transferring from Kalamazoo Central to Midland. Bridges has a solid post game for his age plus the vision and touch to 15 that suggest a versatile future. He led The Program to wins over Champ Sports in pool play and the Mustangs in the knockout round before falling to the Lakers in the semifinals.

Mustangs Unbeaten at CDBA Classic

The Mustangs' Trevion Williams is the top true post player in the state's 2018 class.
The Mustangs’ Trevion Williams is the top true post player in the state’s 2018 class.

The most dominating high school player at the 15th-annual Camp Darryl Classic was Trevion Williams. The Henry Ford Academy sophomore center double-doubled his way to MVP as his Mustangs 16U team ran the table in Kalamazoo. He proved an impossible cover throughout the weekend all the way to the 16U final, where at 6-8, 250 Williams dwarfed anyone from Parallel 45. When he caught it deep it was all over, because even on misses he was getting the ball back. Terrific hands, not going to lose rebounds. Can play out on the floor and get things going with his passing. Williams is a top 100 player nationally in 2018. To maintain that level or move up, he’ll have to add post footwork against defenders his height and improve fitness level/speed to keep up with athletic stretch 4s.

While Williams is the Mustangs’ only true post, they have good all-around size. 6-4 DeWitt sophomore Tanner Reha uses his strength to get into it on defense and can finish from all three levels; 6-5 Country Day sophomore Ashton Franklin is versatile, a grinder who will be a popular GLIAC recruit; 6-5 Roseville soph Zavon Godwin flashes A-10 talent a few times per game, angular bouncy creates own shot above the rim or mid-range, rebounds and push, can trap or block shots. The Mustangs began the season with a bonafide D1 backcourt of Belleville’s Davion Williams and Jenison’s Jacob Boonyasith. They both ended up part of the Great Spring Club Hop of 16, but the ball is still in good hands with 6-1 Goodrich soph Goliath Mitchell improving given more minutes at the point and tough two-way play from 6-2 sophomore Taylor McCaskill, who apparently is leaving Troy Athens for Detroit Edison.

Parallel 45 regrouped after losing leading scorer Jaylon Rogers late in the previous week’s Tulip Tipoff semifinal, to make it to the 16U championship game after winning the 15U title last season. This became the sixth tournament in which P45 was eliminated by the champion. Their guards can match up with any 16U backcourt in the state sans the Family. 6-2 Buckley sophomore Austin Harris can score at the basket or from deep; 6-1 Cadillac sophomore Kegan Brooks is a top shelf defender who can also play the point; 6-3 Frankfort sophomore Matt Loney is another good defender who contributes at every point on the floor; “center” Mason Gardner is really a 6-4 athletic, rugged sophomore wing from Boyne City; 6-2 Petoskey sophomore Seth Mann and 6-3 Benzie Central sophomore Devin Burkhardt are shooters who defend up. With Rogers out, the three-point shooting of 5-10 Traverse City Central sophomore Zeke Turner, confident drives of 5-10 Traverse City West sophomore Brady Stoerkel and competent decision-making from 5-10 Elk Rapids sophomore Grayson Krakow proved crucial.

The Mustangs were pushed late in one 16U semifinal by the West Michigan Lakers. 6-5 Saugatuck sophomore Teague Tiemeyer isn’t a big post player like his older brothers, but is an active lefty in the lane and on the glass who made the all-tournament team. He hit a shot at the horn to force overtime in an eventual quarterfinal win against CGR. Davion Moore led the Macomb County Cougars to the semifinals, he’s a 6-5 L’anse Creuse sophomore who is strong and athletic around the hoop. The one ‘super pool’ member that then didn’t make the semis was MBA’s Regional team. 6-0 Muskegon sophomore Willie Shanks is an aggressive point guard who puts pressure on the defense and 6-7 East Grand Rapids sophomore Elliott Bergsma is long with a soft touch.

Lakers Win Again at CDBA Classic

The West Michigan Lakers have consistently fielded some of the strongest teams in the Camp Darryl Classic through the tournament’s decade-and-a-half run. 2016 was no different as the Lakers 17U went undefeated, eventually beat HoopGrind in the title game.

Jake VanTubbergen

The Lakers’ 6-5 West Ottawa junior Jake VanTubbergen was the 17U MVP. He’s a tough matchup with the ball given his length, feel and bounce. He’ll spin finesse finger roll you, then bang out in transition. Frail physique will frighten some coaches, though VanTubbergen’s two older brothers were college QBs so the frame is in there somewhere. What they do have to like is that JVT is a program builder at WO for what will be a top 10 Class A team in 2017; skill; upside; competitiveness; grades. GLIAC, Patriot League, Ivy need to check him out in July.

The Lakers have another D1/D2 borderline junior in 6-8 Zack Niewkoop from Wayland. He was out injured, but frontline depth prevailed for the Purple & Black; 6-7 Rockford junior Ryan Gamm can move men around the hoop, screen and has good hands; 6-7 Lowell junior Austin Branagan is playing focuses, can knock it down from the short corner or get to the basket; and Western Michigan Christian junior Daniel Ray has a soft shooting touch at 6-8. The team’s catalyst is found a head down the totem pole in 5-8 Wayland junior Avery Hudson. He’s fearless, which makes up for a lot.

HoopGrind didn’t have the size or depth to hang with the Lakers in the final, and they’d already been worn down with a one-point, OT win over the MBA National 16U (playing up) in the semifinals. For HoopGrind, 5-10 McBain junior Logan Eling is a clutch shooter who is quick and tough enough to counter and drive in traffic; 6-3 Grayling junior Spencer White fills the gaps to knock down shots, is efficient and can guard bigger players; and you wouldn’t know 6-1 Harrison Gilstrap from Bath was just a sophomore with the way he shot it.

The Lakers had a comeback win in the semifinals over a talented West Michigan Elite team. 6-3 Vicksburg junior Deondre Lovell is a big-time finisher when the game is wide open and needs to work on his guard game for when it slows down and there’s a man in front of him; not many men want to stay in front of 6-4 Kalamazoo Central junior Roger Stein when he gets going downhill, he can rebound out of his area then score it on the other end; 6-3 Three Rivers sophomore Tirrell Hausmanis was WM Elite’s all-tournament selection, another agile widebody inside who can step out and shoot.

6-10 sophomore Blake Verbeek was at home playing up in the 17U division with MBA National’s 16U team at the Camp Darryl Classic.

MBA’s 16U has one of the state’s top 2018 point guard and post duos, with 6-1 James Vallar (Kalamazoo Christian) and 6-2 Duane Washington (Grand Rapids Christian); and 6-8 Marcus Bingham (Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills) and 6-10 Blake Verbeek (Grandville Calvin Christian). Vallar is a bulldog going to the rack where he gets his shot off with strength and explosiveness, and carried the team in pool play. Washington came back from a tweaked ankle to for stretches carry MBA on Sunday. His high-arc J is money, hits the forwards on their hands and can play at different paces. Washington is the more consistent decision maker of the two. Verbeek’s favorite shot is the corner 3 but can also flip in shots from the blocks and can catch and finish on the break. Bingham uses his wingspan defensively and has a decent feel offensively, just needs some strength to finish.

A physical triplet to the two slender MBA posts came from the Macomb County Cougars 6-9 Troy junior Christian Lafayette. He’s long and can turn ends, but the lefty shot is really erratic. Still a nice investment for a small college program. One of the top shooters in the event was the Mid-Michigan Lakers Austin Harles, a 6-0 junior poised for a big year at Holly. Shoreline Elite’s 6-7 Grand Haven junior Ross Koella could be getting GLIAC offers like similar forwards Niewkoop and Nick Welch from St. Mary Catholic Central, but those two have a bit more dog in them.

2018 Talent Does It at Warriors Jamfest

Clarkston sophomore CJ Robinson has had reason to celebrate with the North Oakland Wolfpack.
Clarkston sophomore CJ Robinson had reason to celebrate with the North Oakland Wolfpack, as he was 16U MVP of the Warriors Jamfest.

Some of the best young Detroit area talent was on hand for the Warriors Jamfest in Livonia. The strongest division was 16U, where the North Oakland Wolfpack held off fellow suburbanites TEAM Basketball in the final after the two beat the Playmakers and Warriors respectively in the semifinals. Here’s a look at 10 impressive 2018 prospects from the 16U division.

Nate Davis  6-2  So  TEAM Basketball (Rochester Stoney Creek): With teammates Justin Fischer and Jason Dietz not fully healthy, Davis has done yeoman’s work in TEAM Basketball’s backcourt. Turned the corner easily and improved physicality allowed him to finish consistently at the rim. Even when looking for his shot showed a point guard’s mentality and kept the ball hot.

Justin Fischer  6-3  So  TEAM Basketball (Warren De La Salle): Working his way back after being out injured for three-and-a-half months, and there are flashes of why we were so excited for what would’ve been his sophomore season at DLS. Point guard with size and terrific placement on his passes.

Austin Harris  6-2  So  Parallel 45 (Buckley): A true combo guard who has taken advantage of his team’s void in the lane to become a consistent threat in the post against smaller guards, in addition to his ability to hit jumpers off the catch or dribble.

Trayvon Jackson  6-8  So  REACH (Detroit Western): Uses length to envelop would-be post scorers. Lefty who can easily knock down the 20 footer. Top 10 player in the class with a more consistent motor and rebounding intent.

Antonio Marshall  6-2  So  Playmakers (Detroit King): Long for days and combined with quick hands make him a potentially big time defender. Offensively played well with the Playmakers’ penetrators to knock down three-pointers.

Tristen Mysen  6-6  So  North Oakland Wolfpack (Clarkston): He was a plus for the Wolfpack all weekend, as one of the bigger players in the division but didn’t coast on that, as he ran the floor and competed on the class. His perimeter continues to expand as Mysen showed he could step out and hit the corner 3.

CJ Robinson  5-10  So  North Oakland Wolfpack (Clarkston): True point guard leader who was named MVP after the Wolfpack claimed the 16U title. Can beat you from the arc or at the rim, and is now an even tougher cover with the floater in the lane going down. Where he really separates himself is that Robinson plays as hard on defense as he does offense. When he raises the intensity on that end the team follows suit.

Huston Tucker  6-3  So  Warriors (Walled Lake Central): Plays bigger than his height. Went hard after the tough, 50/50 rebounds, not just the ones that fell to him. Slasher with some bounce.

Chase Wasilk  6-4  So  North Oakland Wolfpack (Clarkston): He’s really improved. Love his size on the wing, is tight in his cuts and curls and has a long first step when he does get the ball. Not just a scorer, he’ll set strong screens just as readily as use them himself.

Dlano Woods  5-11  So  Michigan United (Chippewa Valley): Do-it-all guard, who often had to for a Michigan United team that was solid but with no other stars. Creative, relentless, old school scorer off the dribble. Needs to mature as a true point guard and counter game changes as they occur.