The Grand Haven boys basketball program reflected on that journey Tuesday as they celebrated Senior and Parents Night at the Grand Haven Fieldhouse.
Photos from Tuesday’s game
The Buccaneers outscored visiting Forest Hills Central 39-19 in the second half to cruise to a 68-46 win over the Rangers in the final regular season home game for five Grand Haven senior players.
“As a coach, that’s what you hope for in games like this,” said Grand Haven head coach Greg Immink. “You’d like to have a nice lead, so you can honor your seniors by taking them off the court one at a time. We were fortunate enough to do that tonight, which was the result of all our hard work through the first 30 minutes of the game.
“I can’t say enough about our seniors. All five of them have given so much to the program. They’ve sacrificed their time and energy and given us so much leadership. For us to be able to honor them tonight; it was something they all deserved.”
The Rangers made things interesting early on, knocking down some deep 3-pointers and taking an early lead, before the Bucs fought back to tie the game at 18-18 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second frame, the Buccaneers’ second group — Kellum Bridgeforth, Malic Love and Dimitrius Neely — changed the momentum of the game with intense defensive pressure that sparked an 11-2 run for Grand Haven.
“Our second group really gave us a huge boost off the bench in that second quarter,” Immink added. “They really changed the trajectory of the game with that run they started. We got off to a slow start offensively, and they turned the momentum in our favor with some great defensive pressure.
“They bring so much energy when they go in the game. They were guarding people tight, getting hands on passes, and that really changed the whole feel of the game for us.”
Bridgeforth, who scored a team-high 17 points, wasn’t surprised his group made an immediate impact.
“They call us ‘the pitbulls’, because we get after it when we’re out there. We played hard tonight, and we made a lot of plays that helped us get the win.”
Immink thought the nickname fit the attitude the group brings to the team.
“That’s fitting, because that group of guys is afraid of nothing, and they are so willing to work hard,” he continued. “They are willing do the things that a lot of kids aren’t. They’ve influenced a lot of games this year and are a big reason why we’ve been so successful.”
WHAT ABOUT BOB
It was also a special night for Grand Haven assistant coach Bob Eidson, as he recently announced that he will be retiring at the end of the season after 45 years with the school.
“As a young coach, it was huge for me to have someone like Coach Eidson there with me,” Immink reflected. “His stability and his loyalty to this program has been unmatched. It was a great night for him, too. 45 years at anything is a long time and for him to do that along with being a teacher at the school.
“He’s sacrificed a lot of time to Grand Haven and Grand Haven should be very proud of him and what he’s given to this town, this team and this program. He’s just a stabilizing force on the sidelines. He always stays positive, he’s always got good ideas from the sidelines, and he’s obviously been around the game long enough to know what’s going on.”
While Eidson was appreciative of the support, he’s still holding out hope that this wasn’t the last time he coaches at the Grand Haven Fieldhouse — which serves as the location of the Class A regionals on March 13.
“I’m hoping it’s not our last game here,” he said after the game Tuesday. “My hope is that we’ll be playing here in the regional a week from Monday.
“(My decision) really came down to me finding out that I couldn’t do the same things, physically, at practices that I used to be able to do. I really love the kids and the relationships you build over the course of their careers, but every year, I just see myself doing less and less.
“It was just getting harder for me to come to grips with. I watch Greg every night, and he’s out there playing with the kids during practice and I would like to be able to do stuff like that. I’ve had 45 pretty wonderful years here, though, so I don’t have anything to complain about.”
Eidson moved to Grand Haven in the spring of his junior year of high school and has been a Buccaneer ever since.
“I got to Grand Haven just in time to play baseball for Steve Sluka, then the following year, I played basketball for Grand Haven and then went on to play at Grand Valley for four years. After that, I came back here to teach, and I’ve been here ever since.”
There’s a saying that “behind every successful coach, there’s a strong wife”. That is something Bob Eidson has always believed in.
“What I appreciate the most is what my wife, Robin, has allowed me to do,” he added. “There’s not a lot of women out there that will let you run around and play games all your life. My whole family has really embraced my role in the program. My kids have always been in the gym with me, and I’ve never taken that for granted.
“When you have support like that, you can last as long as I have. Sometimes, this job really intrudes on your family life. We’re going to California in June, and I haven’t been out of Grand Haven in 45, 46 years. We’ve always had basketball going on, so it’ll be nice to get out there.”
Eidson added he’d likely put more of focus on his golf game once he hangs up his coaching whistle, and is contemplating some traveling once his wife retires from teaching.
FAB FIVE FINISH
For the seniors, Tuesday’s game was a bittersweet moment. They were playing their final game in front of a home crowd, but still had so much to play for.
“It was an awesome game and an amazing Senior Night for us,” said senior Zac Holman. “You couldn’t have drawn it up any better than that. I didn’t have to say too much before the game, because everyone on the team knew coming in what this game meant to the seniors.
“I think we tied for the best regular season record at Grand Haven in 20 years with the win tonight, too. So this game was big for us, and that mark was just some extra motivation for us.”
Holman wasn’t expecting the moment to get to him, but as the game wore on, he caught himself catching some feelings.
“I didn’t think I was going to get that emotional, but as the game went on, I started thinking, “wow, this is the last time I’m ever going to play here,’ he added. “I got pretty emotional after that, because it’s kind of sad that’s over, but there’s so many great memories here, too.”
Holman was also emotional about it being Coach Eidson’s final game at the Grand Haven Fieldhouse.
“He’s been everything for me,” he added. “I came in my sophomore year to the varsity team, and he kind of took me under his wing, and I’ve grown so much through him. He means the world to me. I can’t express how much he’s done for me, personally, and for this entire program.”
During his time at Grand Haven, Holman has experienced plenty of highs and lows. He was a member of the team in 2014 when former coach Steve Hewitt unexpectedly passed away while on a run, and helped lead the team to a share of the O-K Red Conference title last season.
Now, he just hopes he left an impression on the next generation of Buccaneers.
“Personally, I think we’ve really established a togetherness within the program,” he said. “This group of seniors has always tried to create unity and point the program in the right direction. When times get tough, we always battle through it, ever since we were little kids.”