ASPEN - Andrew Papenfus knows the odds are long. He knows nothing is guaranteed.
Still, the former Aspen High basketball star insists he is willing to take a chance to realize a dream.
Papenfus spurned scholarship offers from Division II schools and passed on the chance to play - and likely star - at the DIII level, despite the urging of Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum. Instead, Papenfus will attempt to walk on at DI Santa Clara University in California during the upcoming school year.
"I did try to steer him to what I thought were some great opportunities ... but I never got the feeling he was serious about any of them," Ketchum said Thursday. "I got the feeling he was chasing the dream. You can't fault a kid for doing that, so I didn't."
Should he succeed, Papenfus would become just the second Skiers player to make the leap directly from the 3A Western Slope to college basketball's top classification; Cory Parker just wrapped up his sophomore season at Drake University in Iowa.
In 10 appearances for the Bulldogs last season, Parker, 3A's Mr. Basketball in 2008, scored six points.
"Even Cory is struggling to survive at that level and get any minutes at all," Ketchum said. "I don't think anyone believes [Papenfus] is a true DI player right now. ... I told him 'You're looking at a one in 100 chance. Literally. There will be 100 guys trying out for that one walk-on position, 100 guys that are just as good as you.' He told me 'I don't care, coach. I think I can do this.'
"I hope he proves me wrong. I love being proved wrong."
Papenfus averaged nearly 15 points per game this past season, when he garnered Slope player of the year and first-team All-State honors. The versatile shooting guard helped guide Aspen to a school-best 26-1 record and a third consecutive trip to the Great Eight.
He turned some heads in Fort Collins, where his clutch play helped propel the Skiers to their first state title-game berth.
Not bad for a kid who was playing with a balky left knee.
Soon after March's postseason run, Papenfus underwent surgery. Doctors used a graft to repair an area of soft, dead bone and deteriorating cartilage in the knee, he said.
Last Friday, for the first time since March 13's state championship game, Papenfus returned to the court at the Colorado All-State Games in Greeley, which featured the state's top prep players from all classifications.
"I was a little rusty. Luckily, I had two practices before the first game [Saturday]," he said. "I was rusty on the offensive end and didn't have my shot back fully. Defensively, I felt well and felt like I could play with the kids.
"That definitely gave me some confidence, having not played for three months and being able to play with them. Now I need to work to get stronger and work on my ball-handling skills."
Papenfus' team, which was coached by Ketchum, rolled to a 103-68 win in Saturday's opener. In the title game, the squad battled back from a 10-point, halftime deficit to go ahead by one with less than 30 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Papenfus pulled down a defensive rebound and was fouled immediately. He missed both of his free-throw attempts, and the other squad tipped in a shot at the buzzer to pull out a one-point victory.
"That was a tough way to finish, but I thought he played well," Ketchum said. "To have no training or conditioning ... just wait until he gets it all together."
While he has not talked directly with the Santa Clara coaching staff, Papenfus said he is hoping to work out with the team during his orientation in July. To prepare, he has been spending time in the weight room, honing his jump shot and training with Aspen assistant Brandon Darnton and former Skiers standout Robert Tomaszek.
Tomaszek, a Junior College All-American at Eastern Wyoming who spent two years playing for Bob Knight at Texas Tech, currently plays professionally overseas.
"He's a real nice guy and he knows his stuff," Papenfus said.
"With some hard work and effort, I think I'll be able to get some minutes and hopefully progress for four or five years and go for it. ... I love the competition, even in pick-up games ... and I have a drive to win."
If things don't work out on the hardwood, Papenfus said he is excited about exploring other opportunities at Santa Clara.
"I love the game of basketball and I really wanted to go somewhere where I could play, but I've heard of kids getting injured, not liking the coach, the program or the school. ... I sat down and asked myself, 'What if I didn't play basketball? ... Would I be happy at school?" Papenfus recalled. "That's why I chose Santa Clara. I know I'll still be happy there.
"I know I'm not going to the NBA. I wanted to go where I could get a good education and have a good chance to network ... and get a good job."
No matter what happens, Ketchum will be cheering on his former pupil.
"He can always say he gave it a shot, that he tried," the coach said. "He won't always have to wonder. Those questions will now be answered."