AHS basketball coach Alex Schrempf bids adieu to the valley in his return home

Schrempf rebuilt the AHS boys basketball program in recent years, but has returned to his roots in Seattle to pursue new opportunities

Aspen High School boys basketball coach Alex Schrempf talks to the players during a December 2016 practice, his first season as the team’s head coach.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

When Alex Schrempf took over the Aspen High School boys basketball program in 2016, it was in a bit of disarray. Now, after his five-year run as head coach has ended, the Skiers are in position to be one of the top teams in the state this coming winter.

“To see it finally end up working in a big way was super, super fulfilling,” Schrempf said in a recent interview. “Sitting down and chatting with the boys … it was tough. I didn’t expect emotion, at least to the level that it was there in that room. But it was also tough because it’s a special thing we’ve had.”

Schrempf has stepped aside as the team’s coach to return to his roots in the Seattle area. He’s taken a job outside of sports, although has bigger dreams to again work in basketball full-time at some point down the line, especially if a professional team returns to Washington state.

The son of Detlef Schrempf, a former National Basketball Association all-star who was among the league’s top players in the late 1980s and ’90s, Alex Schrempf moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in late 2015 and has made a significant impact on basketball in the region over his time here.

“Everything I did on the court was always preceded by my pops. To come to a small town and work with people who didn’t really know and to still feel accepted, welcome and excited about it was a super fulfilling thing,” Schrempf said. “There are some incredible coaches in their respective sports in this little community. That common ground that brings us all out here of loving where we live and loving what we get to do and the stuff we have access to, then you find you can be surrounded by so much talent and so much experience, it’s a really tough thing to leave.”

Even after making the decision earlier this summer to return to Seattle before the fall season hit, Schrempf spent the following months helping coach a local club/AAU team through a rigorous slate of tournaments, mostly out of state. While the team had plenty of success on the court, Schrempf was most proud of the team’s makeup, which included players from numerous nearby high schools such as Aspen, Basalt, Roaring Fork, Glenwood Springs and Coal Ridge.

“For us to have a few kids that are really striving to play at the next level, to be able to put them in the most competitive atmosphere possible is a big part of their development,” Schrempf said. “It was really awesome. They developed at a huge rate and the main goal was the confidence. We want to expose you to as competitive an opponent as possible, so when you get back to the Western Slope of Colorado and you are tipping off against any school, you are going to look against the guy you are matched up against and realize you’ve gone against guys that can jump higher, run faster, shoot better, and you are not going to be afraid.”

Aspen High School boys basketball coach Alex Schrempf talks to players during a February 2017 game.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

That club team is just the latest — and final — piece of the puzzle in the Aspen High program’s rise under Schrempf these past five years. AHS had been a powerhouse program under former coach Steve Ketchum, who left following the 2013-14 season that ended with a 19-5 overall record. The squad dropped off rapidly after that, going 9-11 in 2014-15 and 6-14 in 2015-16 before Schrempf took over.

The Skiers had a decent 9-12 campaign in Schrempf’s first season, the 2016-17 school year, but dropped to only 4-16 a year later. AHS went 7-14 in 2018-19 before having a breakthrough campaign in 2019-20, going 14-10 overall and returning to the state tournament.

Last winter, during a pandemic-altered season, Aspen finished 13-2 overall and even beat Faith Christian in the Sweet 16 round of the Class 3A tournament before falling to No. 3 seed Sterling in the quarterfinals.

“Coach Ketchum had such an amazing, consistent, well-supported program, and just a couple years of absence and it felt like the culture of the sport was really gone,” Schrempf recalled. “It was a big thing for me to figure out. I don’t think I was ever in a position to say I was going to be here forever. I love it here, but I still need to see more places before I hopefully, maybe, settle back here.”

Aspen High School boys basketball coach Alex Schrempf yells instructions against Rifle on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, inside the AHS gymnasium.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Who takes over for Schrempf isn’t yet known, as AHS is currently looking to find a new athletic director after Martha Richards recently returned to coaching golf with the University of Denver. In all likelihood the person who steps into the AD role, which is expected to be announced soon, will make the final call. Winter sports practices officially start Nov. 15.

Schrempf said he would like to see the hire made from within the program to keep the continuity and let a deep group of seniors — Aspen brings back nearly every significant piece of last year’s state quarterfinal team — finish what it started.

Both of Schrempf’s parents, as well as his brother, still live in the Seattle area, and he remains close with many of his childhood friends from where he was a prep standout before walking on for a brief stint at UCLA.

But his fondness for the Roaring Fork Valley — he lived specifically in Snowmass Village the past few years — isn’t something that will likely ever fade. An avid snowboarder, Schrempf was already planning visits to Aspen for this upcoming winter to both ride and catch a basketball game or two.

“I fell in love with being here. I fell in love with the people I got to surround myself with and the lifestyle I got to lead, so it was really tough to leave,” Schrempf said. “Part of me is still on the fence of, ‘I might be making a terrible decision.’ But at the same time I know I’m not and I’m super excited for the new challenge and it’s super reassuring to know I found happiness here and I know I can come back to it at anytime.”