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.

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