BASALT - Rolf Schildman is embarking on the ultimate rebuilding project.
The Illinois native recently was named head coach of the Basalt boys basketball team. The 37-year-old inherits a program that is searching for answers and a return to relevance following a tumultuous - and winless - 2011-12 campaign.
"I know they've struggled, and my job is to try and change that culture," said Schildman, who currently works as a substitute teacher. "Hopefully they buy into the system, and maybe I can teach them a few things to get them over the hump."
At first glance, that hump appears to be as large as a mountain. The Longhorns have lost 25 consecutive games dating to the 2010-11 season. Their last victory came in Cedaredge on Feb. 4, 2011.
Save for a two-point loss to Vail Mountain School, Basalt was not competitive last winter. The Longhorns went 0-20 and were outscored by an average of nearly 30 points per game. They lost by more than 50 three times - including a humbling 73-14 defeat in Aspen.
Rifle routed the Longhorns, 86-31, in Feb. 20's season finale.
"It's a lot different going from soccer, where we're always winning, making the playoffs and making a statement, to basketball season," senior guard Sean Ryan admitted. "At first, last year was frustrating. Then it was probably depressing. Then, once it got to the last couple games, we felt like there was no point in even playing. We knew we basically were going to lose. We had no confidence or drive."
Ryan and company are hoping a third coach in the past three seasons can alter that mind set.
Practice officially kicked off Friday, and the initial returns have been favorable.
"(Schildman is) very knowledgeable. He definitely knows how to play and definitely knows how to coach," Ryan said. "He knows the type of defense and offense we should be playing, and I think everybody is on board with what he has to say."
Schildman last coached at Jacksonville High School in Illinois, where he led the Crimsons' freshman and junior varsity teams for two seasons each before leaving to complete a master's degree in educational leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
He played at Lincoln and Illinois colleges and Division II Armstrong Atlantic State University (Georgia).
Upon relocating to the valley four months ago with his fiancee, a nurse practitioner at Valley View Hospital, Schildman discussed a possible coaching role with Aspen High head coach Steve Ketchum.
Ketchum mentioned the Basalt vacancy.
"He told me, 'Stop by Basalt on your way home and just go in and tell them who you are and what you're about,'" Schildman recalled. "I walked in and introduced myself. The timing just happened to be good.
"It's pretty exciting. As a JV coach, you always have different ideas that you can express, but if the head coach doesn't agree, you just have to go with it. It's nice to kind of have the freedom to do what I think will work."
Schildman believes the pieces are in place to win right away.
"I like what I see from the seniors. I'm going to be counting on that leadership from the guys who have been here," he said. "We don't have a lot of height, but we've got a lot of speed. If we can maximize that, we hopefully can put pressure on people, force some turnovers and score some points.
"Right now, a lot of it is giving them confidence and letting them know that we're playing to win. ... I want to win right now, and hopefully that spirit and attitude will help carry over. My assistant coaches say there's a renewed energy, and the guys are working harder than ever."
In an effort to establish chemistry, Ryan and seven others organized a travel team during the summer. They played nearly 20 games against top-flight competition on the Front Range.
They held their own, Ryan said, and even managed to secure a few wins.
"It felt good to know how that feels again," he added.
Now, the Longhorns will look to take the next step. They tip off the season Nov. 30 against 4A Eagle Valley.
"Last year is something we've put behind us," Ryan said. "We have a new coach, it's a new season, and there's a new mind set. (Schildman) will definitely get us where we need to go as long as we stick with him."