From hoop dreams to the Aspen dream
Ryan Summerlin September 17, 2013
For most of his life, Scott Courts has been asked the same question: Do you play basketball?
That question comes with the territory when you stand 6 feet, 10 inches tall. In fact, if you ask further, he not only played basketball — Courts was part of a national championship team at the University of Kentucky in 1978.
But for Courts, 1978 was just one piece of his life puzzle, albeit a big piece. Life took Courts for a wild ride after he won that title, a ride he made a point of driving rather than coasting along with.
Now 54, Courts looks younger than his age. His long, blond hair has a tendency to drop over whatever glasses he’s wearing at the time, giving him an even more youthful appearance. Muscular and trim, Courts looks like he can still play college basketball.
Now a successful financial-investment adviser, Courts found a home in Aspen 25 years ago and fell in love with the healthy, mountain lifestyle.
“Aspen is pretty close to paradise,” Courts said. “Everything I like to do is here as well as plenty of interesting people to do it with.”
Originally from Minnesota, Courts moved with his family to Arvada when he was 3. His family didn’t have an athletic background, but there was height in the family genes, particularly in his 6-foot-11-inch grandfather.
Courts grew to 6 feet, 8 inches by eighth grade. Even before he started high school, the college basketball recruiters were already following Courts wherever he was playing. He grew to 6 feet, 10 inches in high school and began to blossom into one of the nation’s top prep players.
“Scott was a joy to coach,” said Joe Beckner, who coached Courts for three years at Arvada West High School. “He wasn’t naturally gifted, but he pretty much outworked everybody to get to his level. He really worked his butt off. He was a great prep player and fun to be around.”
In 1977, as a senior at Arvada West, he had a monster game against rival Cherry Creek, scoring 29 points and grabbing 18 rebounds.
“It was one of those games where I was truly in the zone,” Courts recalled. “Everything was automatic and beautiful.”
After that game, Courts waited until the gym emptied and began to work out on his own, like he often did. That night, he was interrupted by a knock on the gym doors.
“I opened the doors, and there was Dean Smith from North Carolina, Lute Olson from Iowa and Joe B. Hall from Kentucky, three of the biggest college coaches in the nation,” Courts said. “They all wanted to watch me work out. A week later, I was listed as one of the top 10 high school athletes in the nation.”
Courts was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior and had more than 1,000 recruiting letters. He made several college visits, but nothing could touch the treatment he received at the University of Kentucky.
From the school’s rich tradition to coach Hall, Courts realized that basketball in Kentucky was treated at a whole different level from anywhere else. He also knew the Wildcats had an experienced, talented roster, and Courts wanted to become part of the Kentucky basketball family.
After accepting a scholarship at Kentucky, the experience only got bigger and better.
“We were treated like rock stars,” he said. “We were in the limelight 100 percent of the time, no matter where we went.”
The 1977-78 Kentucky squad was not only talented — it had a special connection and trust that fueled its success. It beat the best teams, including a Magic Johnson-led squad from Michigan State, before meeting Duke in the national championship game.
A few weeks before the NCAA Final Four, Courts’ life took a turn that would impact him in ways he couldn’t realize at the time. His father, arguably the biggest influence in his life, suffered a heart attack.
Three nights before the national championship game against Duke, Courts got a knock on his door from the Kentucky team doctor at 3 a.m.
“I opened the door and said, ‘My dad is dead, isn’t he?’” Courts recalled. “The doctor said, ‘Yes, he’s passed away.’”
Courts said the next few days were a haze leading up to the title game. Kentucky beat Duke, 94-88, to win the 1978 national title.
“I went from the lowest low to the highest high at 18 years old,” he said. “I left to return to Minnesota on the same night we won the championship.”
The next few days were dark and lonely ones for Courts.
“Losing his dad had to have scared the hell out of Scott,” Beckner said. “They were pretty close.”
Courts needed time to heal, a luxury he wasn’t given as a Kentucky basketball player. During the summer of 1978, the Wildcats were scheduled to travel to Japan to play the Japanese national team. At a team meeting before the trip, Hall asked if anyone was not planning on going.
Courts raised his hand and told Hall he needed to return to Colorado to help reorganize his family business.
Hall was extremely upset with him, and Courts decided then and there he didn’t want to play basketball for Hall anymore.
“I had a lot of internal anger,” Courts said. “But my belief was when you take bold steps, bold forces and powers come to your assistance. I just knew I was making the right decision.”
When word was out he was leaving Kentucky, many of the same colleges that recruited him as a prep player returned. He now was branded for the rest of his life with the Kentucky mark, and even his friends saw him as a celebrity.
He admits that the seduction of the rock-star treatment was difficult to give up.
“In Kentucky, I once said it was easy money, easy friends, easy everything,” he said. “I was young and being treated like a hero. We also had a lot of beautiful girls trying to get our attention in Lexington. I really needed something to help me get over the addiction to the limelight.”
While in high school, Courts developed a relationship with Lonnie Porter, the basketball coach at Regis University in Colorado, and eventually chose to attend Regis. Porter emphasized scholastics first and sports second. The school was academically challenging for Courts but ultimately rewarding.
While attending Regis, he was given an entry-level job at a venture-capital firm. He quickly realized he enjoyed working in that line of business and ended up getting his degree from Regis in economics and business. He also was learning that life was more than being a celebrity for throwing a ball in a basket.
At 21, he got a job working at Resource Technology Associates and began to make good money.
“I was making pro-sports money without having to run up and down a basketball court,” Courts said. “I found my niche.”
He eventually became an investment adviser at Boettcher and Co. before starting and running his own investment-advisory business for 22 years called Omnivest.
Malcolm MacDonald was a personal adviser for John Denver and became friends with Courts in 1998.
“Scott really has a magnetic personality,” MacDonald said. “He’s also creative in his thinking and very intelligent. His personality is unique. It’s wonderful to have a friend you can talk to about business, philosophy, spiritual connections or even music.”
THE RIGHT CHOICE
Courts now works for Neidiger, Tucker and Bruner Inc. as an investment adviser. He looks back at his decision not to pursue a route to professional basketball as a solid one.
“I still love to lift weights and work out,” he said. “By not playing pro ball, I kept my body intact.”
He points to his peers, like former Kentucky teammate Rick Robey, who has two artificial knees and an artificial shoulder, or friend Bill Walton, who’s had 37 major surgeries from playing basketball.
Courts figures he still has one more encore in his life. He still manages money but is looking at opportunities in the high-tech startup sector.
As he looks back at his life, he says moving to Aspen was one of his smartest investments.
“I took up downhill skiing when I first came to Aspen and never looked back,” he said. “Then it was hiking, biking and so much more. For me, Aspen is pretty close to paradise. I’m into a sound mind and body, and what better place to celebrate life than here?”