Making of a champion: Bronkema leads Ferris to national title

Ferris State University\'s mens basketball coach Andy Bronkema cuts the nets after the Bulldogs won the NCAA Division II national championship Saturday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

BIG RAPIDS — His training, so to speak, began in McBain.

It continued at Cornerstone University before eventually reaching the next level at Ferris State University.

Now, it's reached an elite level.

Really, really elite.

Bronkema coached Ferris State's men's basketball team to the NCAA Division II national championship over the weekend in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Bulldogs beat Northern State University in a thrilling 71-69 championship game Saturday afternoon.

As part of the reward for the national championship, Bronkema was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches' Division II Coach of the Year on Monday.

Ferris State returned home to a police escort and a rally on campus Sunday afternoon before Bronkema headed out of town with his family for some well-deserved time off.

"I am blessed to coach these guys," Bronkema said in his post-game press conference on Saturday. "They made me look awful good throughout the year and I thank them for that.

"There's a lot of storylines that will be told here in the days and weeks and months that come but we're looking forward to but for me, this is going to be a great part of my testimony and my faith and I'm excited about that."

Bronkema's storyline has been evolving for almost 20 years.

He won a basketball state championship at McBain in 2002 under longtime Ramblers' coach Bruce Koopman before heading off to play at Cornerstone where the Golden Eagles won two regular-season WHAC titles, a WHAC tournament crown and four national tournament appearances, including an NAIA Final Four showing.

"All the people I've had contact with set me up for this," Bronkema said. "From my dad, to Coach Koopman, to Coach (Jeff) McDonald, to Coach Elders at Cornerstone to Coach Sall at Ferris.

"I was being developed for this the whole time. This is the way it was going to be. This is the stuff we talked about and it was meant to be."

Bronkema knew he wanted to be a teacher and coach from a young age.

After graduating from Cornerstone, he was teaching elementary physical education at Big Rapids Crossroads Academy while also assisting with Ferris State's mens' basketball program under Bill Sall.

"I was a teacher without a coaching job," Bronkema joked. "After a couple years of volunteering, I took a leap of faith to try this.

"The level wasn't really important to me. It's still not that important. It's about what kind of impact you have on people."

He became the Bulldogs' top assistant for the 2010-11 season and helped Ferris State reach the NCAA Division II Sweet Sixteen.

The story took its biggest turn during the 2012-13 season when Sall left to take over the program at Northern Michigan University. Bronkema finished the season as the interim head coach and then officially got the head job on June 28, 2013.

Ferris State has won four straight GLIAC titles and been to the NCAA Division II tournament each year.

In 2016-17, the Bulldogs posted a school-best record of 28-5 and advanced to the Midwest Regional semifinals.

That set the stage for this year.

"We set the school record with 28 wins last year and we lost one player," Bronkema said. "We brought in Mr. Basketball (DeShaun Thrower of Muskegon) so we had him waiting in the wings."

Ferris State started the season 12-0 before losing at Lake Superior State on Dec. 16. Since, then, they've run off 26 straight victories and finished a near-perfect 38-1 overall.

The Bulldogs were the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, meaning they got to host the games in Big Rapids. Three victories put them in the Elite Eight in South Dakota where they beat Barry 87-84 in the quarterfinals, West Texas A&M 85-79 in the semifinals and Northern State in the title game.

"We started out great with that No. 1 seed to host the regional," Bronkema said. "To break through and win that thing was huge.

"You're preparing one game at a time but you're always dreaming about the whole thing. There are crazy things happening all over the place."

Ferris State trailed Northern State late but a couple of big buckets and a couple of huge stops, including one with 10 seconds left sealed the victory.

"We were fortunate," Bronkema said. "The guys made the right plays down the stretch."

The wheels are already turning for 2018-19, too.

"I've thought about that all year," Bronkema laughed. "It's something you have to think about or you're losing ground.

"You're in the moment 100 percent but you've constantly got your brain moving."

Andy is also not the only Bronkema to be having success at the next level.

His younger brother, Luke, is the second-year head coach at Grand Rapids Community College and led the Raiders to an eighth-place finish in the NJCAA Division II National Championships last week.