Second-Ranked Hawks Men’s Basketball Team Helps Players Reach New Heights

Henry Ford College Hawks Luster Johnson photo by Joshua Tufts
Henry Ford College Hawks Luster Johnson photo by Joshua Tufts

Fresh off last year’s undefeated conference record and a state and district championship, Henry Ford College’s men’s basketball team earned a No. 2 preseason ranking for the first time in program history.

Henry Ford College is one of two Division II schools nationwide in the National Junior College Athletic Association that appeared in the Elite Eight in the last three years.

Head Coach Chris Shepherd, a 4-time Michigan Community College Athletic Association Coach of the Year award recipient, makes it a point to face the toughest competition early in the season. “Our Athletic Director has been really supportive of us; it’s been that way since I’ve been here. She doesn’t put a travel limit on us; she doesn’t put any financial restraint on us to play,” he said.

“We would rather be mad now and happy in February,” Shepherd said.

Division I Butler Community College defeated the Hawks 84-72 in their season opener.

Then, the Hawks lost at home to the Mid-Michigan Lakers by four.

Niagra County Community College, the current No. 2 ranked team in Division II, beat HFC at the buzzer with a final score of 92-91 on Nov. 26.

November left Henry Ford College with a 5-3 record, but in December, they beat 8-1 Glen Oaks Community College and 5-3 Hocking College. The Hawks won both games by an average of 34 points.

“When we play a ranked team, we’re locked in. We play somebody we feel might not be on our level; we don’t realize how the team views us,” Shepherd says. “People want to come in and beat us; it’s taken us way too long to get locked in during games.”

Freshman Alden Ritt says, “Although we’re much more talented than a lot of teams we play, we’re learning that talent doesn’t necessarily matter if we don’t play 40 hard minutes of basketball as a group.”

“We’ve been getting in shape and being more mindful of whether we’re playing our hardest or not.”

Ritt adds, “The coaching staff here is special – I can confidently say that there aren’t many places that have two guys committed to the success of their players both on the court and in the classroom, as Coach Shepherd and Coach Bradley are.”

Sophomore Daniel Rosenberg says, “The biggest challenge for us is staying composed when we make a bad play or when we’re down a couple of points, but the coaching staff always keeps us in check.”

Rosenberg added, “When we’re on the same page, we get whatever we want.”

Coach Shepherd says, “We’re as good as anyone in the country when we’re locked in.”

The basketball program is the oldest and most successful at Henry Ford College.

Because of recent milestones, players are reaching out more often to Coach Shepherd about playing at HFC, but Shepherd says, “Recruiting has been somewhere between excruciating and seamless.”

“For the most part, we got who we wanted; we’re pretty selective; we were able to get a lot of four-year transfers.”

The Hawks landed Mr. Basketball, a prestigious high school basketball award, Chansey Willis, Jr. from Detroit Martin Luther King. Last year, Willis played at the NCAA Division II level at Saginaw Valley State University.

“We had to go work for him,” Shepherd said.

Like recruiting Willis, Jr., Coach Shepherd mentioned freshman Carlson Johnson, “We had to work for him.”

Fortunately, Henry Ford College’s basketball program appeals to high schoolers and four-year university players looking to eventually return to a more favorable role in a larger program.

Hopping back and forth between a junior college and a four-year program is not uncommon for college basketball players.

“A high school kid is going to think he’s going to Duke until July; a four-year transfer is much more in tune with reality and what they need out of their next spot and what their goals are,” Shepherd says.

“If you’re going to have to go to junior college, our brand has been elite in taking kids from a four-year and getting them back to a four-year university.”

Coach Shepherd expects eight of nine players to commit to a four-year program after completing this season.

Two Hawks have already signed with NCAA Division I programs. Chansey Willis, Jr., will play at Western Michigan University and Damarion Bonds will play at Central Michigan University.

Henry Ford ranks 112th in free throw attempts, 11th in three-point attempts, and 18th in three-point percentage.

“We’re still as good as we were last year, and the things that have me irritated are correctable,” Shepherd says.

At the time of this article, the Hawks ranked 11th in Division II out of 20 teams. Henry Ford College will travel to South Suburban College on December 16, ranked 5th in Division II.

Information on upcoming games is available at