Editor’s Note: BallinMichigan‘s ‘Rivals’ series looks at the components that make some of the state’s best high school and college basketball rivalries so great. Feel free to leave your own favorite moments from this rivalry in the comments. Interested in writing a guest post about your favorite rivalry? Contact patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com for details. — P.H.
Grand Valley State University athletics have an interesting dynamic. The school is dominant in so many sports — football being the main prize –but that dominance doesn’t really breed many rivalries.
Oddly, dominance is women’s soccer and not basketball. They compete, but not on another level like the soccer program. Ferris State University, located just 67 miles to the north, is similarly competitive on the hardwood — seems like the perfect rivalry fit. When you really look into it, these two basketball programs can’t be any more even.
I don’t know if you can say there’s a true hatred between the two teams, but there’s definitely a “strong desire” to beat one another. They’re teams that hail from the middle of nowhere; GVSU in the midst of farm country and Ferris in the midst of wooded forests. They just aren’t that much different, well, aside from the fact that GVSU boasts superior academics, facilities (both athletic and academic) and has a nifty 62/38 split between women and men on campus.
Anyways, GVSU hasn’t ever been elite on the hardwood — particularly against Ferris. The teams have played 98 times since 1968 with Ferris leading the all-time series 51-47.
Seriously, four games separate the two. That four games spread is, in large part, thanks to an eight-game winning streak by GVSU from 2006-2008. I’d boldly say that, as far as basketball rivalries go, this is the most competitive and relatively unknown one in Michigan.
The records slightly favor Ferris, but GVSU boasts the top two players in the rivalries history in Callistus Eziukwu and Jason Jamerson. The duo led GVSU to back-to-back NCAA Division II Elite Eights from 2006-2008 and currently play professionally in Europe with Eziukwu having a cup of coffee in the NBA Summer League after graduating in 2008.
Those were the stars, though. GVSU has had it’s fair share of gritty players over the years, too. They’re never flashy, never overly talented — just guys who know their jobs.
Forward Justin Ringler, a starter since midway through his sophomore season, was the leader of the GVSU team in 2009-10. He was a small forward playing power forward with a shooting guard’s body — a super-tweener who did everything well but nothing great. The guy rarely even dunked when he was wide open on the break. That just wasn’t his style.
Ferris’ center Justin Keenan was more glitzy than Ringler. Not to say he was “Hollywood as Hell” as Joakim Noah would call it, but he was the guy who sold tickets. He was undersized too, but when you’re six-foot-seven and 265 pounds, the whole being undersized thing isn’t a big deal.
Regardless, the two led their teams, plain and simple. They were the programs in a microcosm — intrepid players who didn’t have the eye-popping physical gifts, but had the intangibles to get the job done.
Maybe the best example of the entire rivalry — yes, all 98 games of it — can be summed up perfectly in the team’s two matchups in that 2009-10 season.
Both were led by All-American forwards. Both had the talent to win the GLIAC title (which Ferris eventually won). The team’s best players shared the same first name for God’s sake, they were pretty much identical.
I’ll be the first to say that this rivalry, free stuff, whatever — it’s just tough to fill Fieldhouse Arena in Allendale. It’s not that fans don’t care about the success of the team — GVSU football struggles to keep Lubbers Stadium full all game and that’s football — there’s just a weird apathy with the basketball team.
But these team’s weren’t playing in Allendale. The first game between the two that season was played on the biggest stage in West Michigan in the Amway 1-3-1 Showdown at Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids.
Plain and simple, the game more than lived up to the hype. GVSU entered without center Nick Waddell, a player GVSU head coach Ric Wesley (12-7 vs. Ferris) told to me was partially recruited with Keenan and that game in mind. GVSU was without forward Alvin Storrs and his backup, K’Len Morris, both going out in the first half, too.
A grinding first half saw GVSU trail 28-26 at half, but the second stanza saw the stars dazzle. Ringler, who scored just four points in the first, scored 16 of GVSU’s last 25 GVSU points to will the Lakers back into a game they trailed for most of the way.
Keenan simultaneously performed a similar feat, decimating double teams and a 2-3 zone to score 18 second-half points and give Ferris a one-point lead with :28 seconds left.
Momentum swung, Ringler fouled out and GVSU never recovered as Keenan and Co. out-scored them 12-5 in overtime to secure a 79-72 win.
Of course, the final game of the regular season was a rematch. Of course, Ferris was fighting to clinch the conference title and GVSU, hit by a rash of injuries, was hoping to clinch a home-court in the GLIAC Tournament. Of course, it didn’t have the same hype going into it. Instead, it saw the team’s combine for 142 points, capped off by a buzzer-beating, off-balance bank shot by GVSU point guard Breland Hogan that sealed up an 82-80 overtime win at Ferris.
Two teams separated by five points over two games. There weren’t any blowouts that year, just two games that were absolute battles. There really is a lot to this rivalry, but for one year it was all you could ask for — even-steven with a little flair for the dramatic, too.
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