Niles able to lay low — for now — but climbing toward contention

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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NILES — Niles isn’t a school you will hear mentioned in conversations about the best boys basketball teams in Michigan.

But Niles Coach Myles Busby, his coaching staff and players prefer living in obscurity on the hardwood. Being an unknown could prove beneficial for Niles at this week’s Division 2 District Tournament at Edwardsburg.

Niles is in arguably one of the state’s toughest districts with top-seeded and statewide No. 2-ranked Benton Harbor (20-1) sitting on the other side of the bracket. The Tigers and Vikings are on a collision course to meet in Friday’s Final.

The Vikings are fresh off of winning their first Wolverine Conference title since joining the league with the 2021-22 school year. Busby was a sophomore in 2010 the last time Niles (13-1 Wolverine Conference, 17-5 overall) won a league title in the sport, as part of the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference.

Two of the Vikings’ five losses this winter came to Lakeland Conference co-champs Benton Harbor (47-45) and Brandywine (56-43). Niles’ other three losses came to South Bend Clay, Ind. (64-57) and Lansing Everett (53-40). The Everett game was part of the Love and Basketball Showcase hosted by Kalamazoo Loy Norrix on Feb. 3.

Second-place Otsego (60-49) handed Niles its only conference defeat Feb. 2, avenging an earlier-season loss on the Vikings’ home floor (62-52).

Busby said his team’s 49-41 win over Chicago North Lawndale Charter (Ill.) — on Dec. 16 in the Tri-State Holiday Classic at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac — helped serve as a momentum builder for the remainder of the season.

Following a nine-game winning streak, Niles suffered back-to-back losses to Otsego and Everett before winning four out of its last five contests.

“In between these walls (our school gym) and when we’re on the floor, we know how good we can be. We have the best coaching staff in the area. We know our guys put in a lot of work,” Busby said. “For us, it’s just challenging our team to work incredibly hard every single day because that’s not common and we don’t want to be common. You must do the things other teams aren’t doing.

“We have several new pieces this year with a lot of young guys. Now we have to focus on hitting our stride at the right time. Those two straight losses helped us get refocused. We don’t care about what everyone else thinks about us. No one talks about Niles in the preseason rankings, and that’s fine. We try to use that as fuel and strive for more.”

Niles is led by senior point guard and three-year varsity letter winner Mike Phillips Jr. Phillips averages 20 points, three assists and four rebounds per game.

“We just try and take things one step at a time. Our goals after winning conference are to win districts and make a long run in the postseason,” Phillips said. “Our seniors strive to lift everyone up. We just need to pick one another up every day when someone gets down on themselves. This team is viewed as the underdog by a lot of people. We use that as our motivation. It’s important to focus on the mental part of the game each day.”

Phillips, who has received interest from college programs at various levels, is shooting 50 percent from the floor, including 43 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

“Every one of our seniors and other players on the team have really bought into fulfilling their individual roles. It helps when you have one of the best players in the area like Mike,” Busby said.

Sophomore Brayden Favors, son of varsity assistant head coach Desmond Favors, handles the other guard spot.

“Brayden has a ton of potential. He’s not even close to growing into the player he’ll be two years from now as a senior,” Busby said. “He really worked hard on his shooting last summer. This summer we will work on building up his strength. He’s a well-rounded player who likes to defend.”

Brayden Favors, who lettered on the varsity as a freshman, averages 12.5 points, three assists and four rebounds per game and is shooting 52 percent from the field.

Senior forward Ethan Chambliss is averaging a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, along with two blocked shots. He is shooting 64 percent from the floor for the Vikings.

“Ethan is a great kid who does well academically. On the court, he has a big heart and takes a beating every night. He’s not the biggest guy on the floor, but does all the dirty stuff inside for us,” Busby noted.

Sophomore wing Brenden Olsen is another key player. He averages nine points and five boards and is shooting 54 percent from the floor. Busby noted that sophomore Acie Kirtdoll is the future point guard and leader, and senior forward Darris Johnson, III, along with 6-foot-7 freshman post player Donovyn Williams also play vital roles. The final senior on Niles’ roster is wing Logan Olsen, who Busby noted for his hustle plays.

“The best kind of teams are led by their players and not the coaches. This is a player-led team, but you have to demand excellence,” Busby said. “This group has done a great job of rallying around one another when someone isn’t playing very well and has instilled confidence in each other.”

Busby and Desmond Favors both come from families with strong basketball traditions.

Myles’ father Mike Busby, also one of the Vikings’ current assistant coaches, and his uncle Gerald Busby played on Buchanan’s Class C championship team in 1976. Gerald Busby would lead the Bucks to another title two years later as a senior in 1978. James Busby, another uncle, played on Buchanan’s 1985 district title squad.

After Niles won its district in Myles Busby’s senior season, 2011-12, the Vikings experienced an 11-year drought before capturing the 2023 District crown. That run included an upset of Benton Harbor in the district semifinal, 65-61.

Grand Rapids South Christian, the eventual Division 2 runner-up, then defeated Niles 72-33 in a regional semifinal at Vicksburg.

“When I was in school, we always had to beat Kalamazoo Central to get out of Districts. They always beat us and were usually ranked No. 1 in the state coming into the tournament. It took us four years to finally win a district beating Kalamazoo Central, Mattawan and Kalamazoo Loy Norrix,” Myles Busby recalled.

After graduating from Niles, Myles played two years at Mott Community College under Hall of Fame coach Steve Schmidt before transferring to Urbana University, a Division II school in Ohio. He finished his college career at Chadron State College in Nebraska.

Busby returned to his roots serving as a varsity assistant for Niles during the 2019-20 season. He became interim head coach late in the 2020-21 campaign before being awarded the position permanently before the following winter.

“Taking over the program was a tough decision. I had never intended on coming back to Niles, but I wanted to help revive the program and keep the improvement trend going upward,” Busby said. “There’s no secret recipe after you put your coaching staff together. Once you get kids in your program who are good leaders with great character, you just have to keep working hard each day. It’s those traits that we feel are a big key so far to our success. It’s not always about how much talent you have.”

Busby believes things started heading in a positive direction after his 2022-23 ball club began the season 2-4. The Vikings were then 6-9 into the beginning of February but finished 15-11.

“At that point, I think we won nine out of our last 10 games and managed to find our rhythm in time to win our District,” Myles Busby said.

Niles has enjoyed past success, including reaching the 2000 Class B Semifinals before losing to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. Current Niles athletic director Matt Brawley was a standout senior post player on that Vikings’ squad.

Desmond Favors came to Niles from Detroit his sophomore year of high school and began playing for the Vikings his junior year, 2000-01.

“We won districts my junior year and lost to Grand Rapids South Christian in the state quarterfinals my senior season,” said Favors, who also played collegiately for Lake Michigan College, Northwood University and Indiana University-South Bend — at IUSB for current Notre Dame head coach Micah Schrewsberry.

Favors was an assistant for the Vikings during Busby’s senior season. “I’ve known Myles for over 20 years, and we’re just very familiar with one another. We’re always bouncing ideas around and talking basketball,” Favors said.

He enjoys being a part of the coaching staff especially with his son Brayden moving through the program now.

“Initially Brayden was a baseball player. He started working on his game the summer between his eighth and ninth grade year. As a freshman, he got put up on varsity and did pretty well,” Desmond Favors said. “He spent a lot of time this past offseason working on ball handling and making plays. For me, it’s fun watching him.”


Scott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.