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Tough to say goodbye: Marquette Senior High School boys basketball seniors make final sendoff in Midland after tough season

Marquette Senior HIgh School head coach Brad Nelson, lower right, talks to the Redmen on the bench during a timeout in their MHSAA Division 1 regional championship played against Grand Blanc on Thursday at Midland Dow High School. (Austin Chastain photo)

“We’ve been playing together as long as I can remember, even in diapers we were playing together.” — Kam Karp, senior, Marquette boys basketball

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MIDLAND — Kam Karp walked off the floor at Dow High School and hugged his coach, Brad Nelson.

Karp had tears in his eyes as he hugged Nelson for the last time as a Marquette Senior High School basketball player.

While Karp and Nelson shared the embrace, Grand Blanc coach Mike Thomas jogged down the sideline and fist-bumped Karp.

He walked back toward the Bobcat bench and said, “That’s a player, that’s basketball.”

In the moment, through the emotions of exiting Thursday’s MHSAA Division 1 regional final — the final game of his Redmen career — Karp said his entire high school career flashed before his eyes.

And in a moment, it was over.

“It made me sad — these guys are my brothers,” Karp said. “We’ve been playing together as long as I can remember, even in diapers we were playing together. It kind of struck me that it was the last time playing on the floor with my brothers. It hit me pretty hard.”

Going into Thursday’s game, Karp said he and the Redmen knew they had a tough hill to climb against the state-ranked Bobcats, but that was not going to stop the senior class of eight players — including Karp and Lincoln Sager — from giving their team every possible shot at winning.

“All we could do was come out and give it our best,” Karp said. “Whatever the score was at the end, we just wanted to say that we did everything we could. Going into tonight, we just said, ‘Nothing left on the floor.'”

While MSHS lost 85-58, the team found a way to put together an offensive flurry of 20 points in the fourth quarter, sinking 3-pointer after 3-pointer. When Karp left the game, he had scored 19 points while fellow senior Ty Lotterman had 16.

Sager finished with a game-high 23 points.

“I’m so proud, especially of the seniors,” Sager said. “My buddies … are going to go on and do great things. I’m so proud of the seniors, they really brought the hype for this team.”

Sager walked off the floor and showed some emotion in his embrace with Nelson. However, an embrace with his parents after the game was more emotional for the guard.

“Walking off the court for the final time, it does really suck, especially what you’ve gone through with your team,” Sager said. “You’ll never get that back. You’re going to tell your kids about that in the future. It was a special night walking off the court, for sure.”

Karp is set to continue his playing career at Northern Michigan University and others are set to go out into the world beyond basketball.

While the sting of the season — and their Redmen basketball careers coming to an end — Nelson said he knows his guys are ready for the challenge.

“Finality is an emotional thing,” Nelson said. “These seniors, the finality of you’re done — we have a couple going to the next level — but that’s a hard thing to swallow.

“You have to keep in mind everything you’ve done, not just on the court but to the culture, the community and helping people. Go on and be productive members of society. They have the tools — a lot to do with basketball — but now it’s about going on and they’re ready.”

One of the biggest tools the players and coaches alike learned this basketball season was dealing with adversity. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, sacrifices had to be made just to get out on the court. From there, Marquette found magic to reach the fourth regional final in school history.

“It was a rollercoaster at the beginning of the year,” Karp said. “We went from not being sure we were going to have a season, to winning a district championship and playing for a regional championship — one of four teams to do that.

“To have the season on the ropes in the beginning, to go and win a district championship means the world to me — I can’t explain it.

“This was the season I dreamed of having my entire life, just to have it was a dream come true.”

Sager said he was proud of the way his teammates battled through an initial slump, turned their season around and made the regional final.

“At the beginning of the season, we really weren’t who we were,” Sager said. “As the season progressed, we were doing things more as a team, rather than for ourselves. It was special to make it this far.”

In terms of the adversity MSHS faced throughout the season, Nelson said he was proud of the way his team handled everything thrown at them.

Nelson added a lot of this season boiled down to having character — and great character, at that.

“Off the court, with the masks and all that, they’ve handled it better than a lot of adults,” Nelson said. “They’re high-character kids, they’ve battled through so much adversity the last year.

“In December, we didn’t even know if we were going to have a season. For them to be playing for the fourth regional final game in school history through everything, they’re going to be productive members of society.”

Nelson has been a force in his 13 years leading the Redmen. Leading his guys to the school’s fourth regional final in history through a once-in-a-century pandemic shows his leadership qualities.

Just ask one of his senior leaders.

“I look up to him,” Karp said. “I’ve taken in everything he’s said to me, put in a lot of thought and try to do everything he asked me to do to the best of my ability. Coach is one of the people I look up to most and I’ll never forget him — he’s arguably the best coach I’ve ever had.

“He believed in me and I believed in his philosophy here at Marquette. Some of the things I learned from him are the things I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”

Coaching often breeds long nights away from family. Sometimes to get the job done and be a successful coach, some events with family have to be missed.

In a way, however, basketball is family.

“They’re like my sons,” Nelson said. “You’re with them more than you are with your family. My family is down in Florida vacationing and I missed that hanging out with these guys in hotels. They are, they’re like sons.

“To say they’re going off into society, it makes me really proud to be their coach.”

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