These are the best Michigan high school boys basketball programs of all time
We are closing in on the 100th anniversary of the first MHSAA boys basketball state tournament.
The first competition was held in 1925, with Detroit Southeastern (Class A), Sturgis (B) and Jackson St. Mary (C) winning the first state titles. In the 98 years of the tournament’s existence, 16 schools have won six or more state championships, with Flint Beecher and Saginaw still alive in the 2023 tournament with a chance to add to their totals.
Here are the nine schools with seven or more state championships.
1. River Rouge – 14
State titles: 1954, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1998, 1999
Detroit Free Press writer Mick McCabe called Lofton Greene the greatest basketball coach in MHSAA history, and it’s hard to argue with that. Greene won 12 state titles with the Panthers from 1954-1972, winning five straight Class B titles from 1961-1965 added a four-streak run from 1969-1972.
Leighton Moulton was one of the standouts on the 1970-72 state titles teams, as the Panthers beat Muskegon Heights in the 1971 and 1972 finals. In 1972, River Rouge was down seven with less than a minute to go before rallying to win 65-64 in one of the greatest finals in state history, as Moulton hit two free throws with two seconds left.
River Rouge also went back-to-back in 1954-55 and 1998-99. The 1959 title is the only “outlier” in terms of it not being part of the streak.
Other standouts include Brent Darby, who led River Rouge to the 1998 and 1999 state titles and played four years at Ohio State, and Gerrod Abram, who played collegiately at Boston College and then overseas for a number of years. He’s currently the head coach at Ecorse, which played in the state semifinals this week.
River Rouge has made the state finals 20 times.
2. Flint Beecher – 10
State titles: 1976, 1985, 1987, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2023
There are only two schools on this list that have won a state title in the last decade, and Flint Beecher is one of them. To be more precise, seven of its 10 championships have come since 2012 – the first six led by coach Mike Williams.
The Buccaneers have had plenty of stars over the years. Future Iowa standout Roy Marble led Beecher to the 1985 title with a double overtime win over Saginaw Buena Vista. Monte Morris, who’s in his sixth year in the NBA, powered the Bucs’ 2012 and 2013 state title teams, and was named the state's Mr. Basketball.
Morris had plenty of talent follow him. Malik Ellison led the Buccaneers to three straight state titles from 2015-17 and Flint Beecher routed Iron Mountain in the 2021 final thanks to Keyon Menifield Jr.’s 27 points. It won the 2023 title behind Robert Lee Jr., 64-50, over Traverse City St. Francis.
Beecher has made the state title game 14 times.
T3. Detroit Country Day – 9
State titles: 1989, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2007, 2010, 2013
The Detroit Country Day dynasty begins with arguably the most famous high school player in MHSAA history: Chris Webber.
The leader of the Fab Five that took Michigan to back-to-back national title games, Webber carried the Yellowjackets to three consecutive state titles from 1989-91 and won Mr. Basketball in 1991. The NBA Hall of Famer went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA and was an all-star five times.
Then, just a few years later, Country Day was blessed with another all-time talent in Shane Battier, who also led the Yellowjackets to three straight state titles, averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks as a senior en route to winning Mr. Basketball and the national high school player of the year. At Duke, Battier was a national champion and was the national college player of the year. He then played 13 seasons in the NBA and won two national titles.
Future NC State player Clayton Beard led Country Day to the 2007 title; future Detroit Mercy and NBA player Ray McCallum Jr. led Country Day to the 2010 title; and Austin Price and Edmond Sumner were key cogs for the 2013 champs.
All nine state titles came under Kurt Keener, who moved to Gilbert Christian (Arizona) after the 2013 season and has won two more state titles there.
T3. Muskegon Christian/Western Michigan Christian – 9
State titles: 1958, 1962, 1965, 1970, 1992, 1999, 2008, 2009, 2010
The school won its first four state titles under the name Muskegon Christian under the tutelage of Elmer Walcott. After becoming Western Michigan Christian, the Warriors have won five more state titles - including a three-peat from 2008-10 – all under coach Jim Goorman.
Collectively, the school has been to 14 state championship games.
The three-peat happened thanks in large part to the play of Evan Bruinsma, who tallied 25 and 20 points in the 2010 title game. After playing for four years at Detroit Mercy, he has played internationally since 2014 in Luxemburg, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Hungary, Germany Israel and Turkey.
Standouts from some of the other state title teams include Ken VanDyke (1958), who played at Central Michigan; Steve Haney (1970); Randy Prince (1992), who averaged 30 ppg as a senior before playing at Ferris State; Nick Bultema (1999); and London Burris (2010), who played at Alabama State and Siena Heights.
T3. Flint Northern – 9
State titles: 1933, 1936, 1939, 1940, 1947, 1971, 1972, 1978, 1995
A couple of Michigan State stars played major roles in some of Flint Northern’s modern-era championships. Tom McGill was an all-stater on the 1971 team and Terry Furlow was a star on the 1972 team, the latter of which went a perfect 25-0. In 1976, he led the Big Ten in scoring and was the first player from Flint to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. Wayman Britt, a three-year starter at Michigan and captain of the 1976 NCAA tournament runners-up, also starred on those 1971 and 1972 teams.
MSU legend Mateen Cleaves – along with future Spartan star Antonio Smith – led Northern to the 1995 title and was one of the “Flintstones” that led the Spartans to the 2000 NCAA title. He was also a three-time All-American and two-time Big Ten player of the year.
Northern’s early state titles – five between 1933 and 1947 – were led by a part of retro Mr. Basketball winners: Lincoln Dodson Truss (1933) and Ralph Gibert (1940).
The Vikings have won state titles under five coaches: Jim Barclay (4), Les Ehrbright (1) future Michigan coach Bill Freider (2), Bill Troesken (1) and Tony Holiday (1).
T6. Detroit St. Martin dePorres – 8
State titles: 1976, 1985, 1986, 1992, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2003
Detroit dePorres has been blessed to have plenty of talent come through its pipeline, many of whom went on to play in the NBA after winning state titles.
Tony Fuller (1976) played at Pepperdine before landing on the Piston for one season.
Negele Knight and Willie Burton were lynchpins for the 1985 champion, with Burton winning again in 1986. Knight played at Dayton before spending six years in the NBA. Burton was all-Big Ten at Minnesota, a lottery pick in the 1990 NBA draft by the Miami Heat and played eight years in the NBA.
Brian Tolbert (1992) is an Eastern Michigan Hall of Famer.
Aloysius Anagonye (1998, 1999) played at MSU and then spent over a decade playing overseas.
Brandon Cotton (2003) was a McDonald’s All-American and played at Michigan State and Detroit Mercy, and then played overseas.
The program has a solid 8-1 record in state finals games. Ed Rachal coached the Eagles to the first four state titles, with Derrick Owens leading the way for the 1996, 1998 and 1999 crowns and Durand Shepherd taking the helm in 2003.
T6. Detroit East Catholic – 8
State titles: 1973, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1986, 1990, 1997
Detroit East Catholic went an impressive 8-2 in its 10 title game appearances. Dave Soules coached the Chargers to all eight state titles before the school closed in 2005.
The three-peat from 1979-81 was led by Anthony Grier, who would go on to be a four-year starter at Kent State. Lewis Acuff was a key cog on the 1986 title team.
Soules’ last state title might be the most memorable, as Andrew Mitchell hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a win over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian. Mitchell also played at Kent State and was part of the Golden Flashes’ 2002 Elite Eight team.
T8. Kalamazoo Central – 7
State titles: 1932, 1938, 1949, 1950, 1951, 2010, 2011
Kalamazoo Central brings a mix of old-time and new-time with its state titles. The Maroon Giants won five state titles between 1932-51 – the first two under Gene Thomas and the last three with Bob Quiring – while also making eight title game appearances between 1930 and 1951.
The school also had two retro Mr. Basketball winners in that era in John Maartens (1938) and Don Boven (1943).
But after 1951, K-Central had to wait 59 years for state title No. 6, and then added No. 7 a year later under Michael Thomas. Future Dayton standout Devin Oliver led the Maroon Giants with 26 in the 2010 final vs. Ann Arbor Huron and T.J. Buchanan – who played at Rhode Island – had 15 points in the 2011 win over Detroit Southeastern.
K-Central also has a third Mr. Basketball winner: Isaiah Livers, who helped Michigan reach the NCAA tournament title game in 2018 and currently plays for the Pistons.
T8. Crystal Falls – 7
State titles: 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1944, 1956
One of a handful of small-school powers on this list, Crystal Falls won seven state championships between 1938 and 1956, including six in a row from 1938-1944 (there was no tournament in 1943) when there were separate Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula champions.
Eddie Chambers was the coach for the first six titles, with Bob Boldt in charge for the 1956 crown in Class C.
Crystal Falls consolidated in 1968 to become Crystal Falls Forest Park High School and that school reached the state title game in 1981 and 1995. The Crystal Falls Forest Park gymnasium is named after Chambers.
Schools with six state titles
Saginaw (1942, 1962, 1996, 2007, 2008, 2012)
Saginaw Buena Vista (1986, 1989, 1992, 1993, 2004, 2006)
Ishpeming (1932, 1934, 1935, 1938, 1950, 1995)
Muskegon Heights (1954, 1956, 1957, 1974, 1978, 1979)
Alpha (1933, 1934, 1946, 1949, 1950, 1954)
St. Joseph (1926, 1931, 1946, 1948, 1951, 1953)
Grand Haven (1927, 1929, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935)
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Best Michigan high school boys basketball programs of all time