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Champions in 2015, Godwin Heights takes aim on another title under similar circumstances

By: Steve Vedder, March 5, 2017, 6:00 pm

Wyoming – Wyoming Godwin Heights basketball coach Tyler Whittemore admits there are times when he can’t but think he’s been in this position before.

As the Wolverines prepare their quest for a second Class B title in three years, Whittemore said there are definite parallels between the current club and the one which won a title in 2015. It begins with the personnel, as there are five players from that team who have crucial roles on the present team that hosts Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy (10-10) in Monday’s 8 p.m. district opener at Godwin Heights.

While every team is different, when Whittemore thinks back to the team that finished 26-1 he sees many of the same strengths as the current team which soared to 19 straight wins before falling to Class A power Grand Rapids Christian in its regular season finale. Most of all, Whittemore sees a club which can contend for a second state title in three seasons.

"Anybody can beat anybody else on any given night, so it’s not as easy road. And I think we’ve only just recently got to that level," Whittemore said of challenging for a title. "It wasn’t always there in 2015 either, but this team embraces their roles and know what they have to do."

Whittemore said the similarities are striking. Two players, 6-3 junior Lamar Norman and 6-0 senior Christian Rodriguez, played huge roles two seasons ago. Norman averaged 13 points off the bench as a freshman, and Rodriguez is a four-year letterman who is closing in on the school record of 105 career varsity games. The most a Michigan high school player can play is 112, including 80 regular season games and 32 tournament games if the team has three district games and makes the state final each March.

Sinque Spiegner, a 6-1 senior, was also on that team. Whittemore brought up two freshmen for the tournament in junior Markeese Hastings, a 6-6 forward who averages 16 points and 11 rebounds, and junior Payton Harley, a part-time starter at point guard.

Toss in senior Kelvyn Valdez, a first-year starter who will play football at Ferris State next season, and the Wolverines are experienced, talented, athletic and, possibly most important of all, hungry, say the players.

"We still have similar players in how we play the game." Spiegner said. "We want to win."

Whether it was two years ago when Godwin Heights drew respect from opponents as it weaved its way through the state tournament or now when the Wolverines have a target on their backs, Rodriguez said his teammates have adapted to high expectations.

"We get that every year, being a target," said Rodriguez of a program which has gone a remarkable 113-9 the last five seasons. "Every team plays hard against us, but that’s okay."

Whittemore said the chief similarity between the 2014-15 team and the present roster is that both came together late in the season.

"The effort was also there and they were hungry," said.

Whittemore also notes that both teams could score. The state championship team averaged about 83 points per game. This year that average dipped into the high seventies. He said the Wolverines have more depth this season, while possessing what he calls "star power." The state championship team was likely a bit better rebounding club, too, he said.

One of the differences is that two years ago the Wolverines were senior-dominated in terms of leadership. That trait was slow to develop this time around, Whittemore said.

"Leadership is important and we started kind of quiet this year," he said. "But it’s come on now."