Aspen’s own Cory Parker takes the helm of AHS boys basketball program this winter

Skiers open the season at home Tuesday night against Vail Mountain

Aspen High School boys basketball coach Cory Parker poses on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, inside the AHS gymnasium. A 2008 AHS graduate, this will be Parker’s first season as the team’s head coach.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Cory Parker once roamed the halls of Aspen High School as a student, graduating in 2008 as one of the best basketball players in program history. For the past five seasons, since returning home, he’s helped rebuild AHS basketball as an assistant coach alongside Alex Schrempf and has seen the team breakthrough into the upper echelon of the state over the past couple of years.

Now, with Schrempf having stepped aside to return to his roots in Seattle, Parker has taken over as the head coach for the AHS boys basketball team and is coming full circle from his playing days with the Skiers.

“He and I grew so much together on and off the court, so that was the biggest thing, just losing a friend in the valley. But obviously I learned so much from him and this is always in the back of any assistant coach’s mind, that there is always an opportunity,” Parker said last week of replacing Schrempf. “Never in a million years did I anticipate I would come back and be coaching. I just didn’t have that foresight. But it’s a privilege to be able to come back, to be trusted and give back to the program that gave me so many tools. It’s an honor, it really is.”

Parker, 31, who also teaches English at the high school, inherits a program going through its renaissance. The team has not had this much hype surrounding it since Steve Ketchum was the coach, before he resigned in 2014 after 16 years at the helm, where AHS went 282-108 and was a powerhouse on the Western Slope. Parker played for Ketchum, with his senior season in 2007-08 resulting in a trip to the state semifinals and with Parker being named “Mr. Basketball” for all of Class 3A.

“I loved every one of my 16 seasons as the head coach in Aspen. Cory Parker is one of the main reasons I stayed so long and we enjoyed so much incredible success together at the top of the league,” Ketchum told The Aspen Times in 2016. “He was an amazing player to watch, he is an amazing person today, and he will make an amazing coach in the future.”

After leaving AHS as a student, Parker played basketball at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, before graduating in 2012. He was one of three former Ketchum players from Aspen to have played NCAA Division I basketball, along with Andrew Papenfus (Santa Clara) and Robert Tomaszek (Texas Tech).

“He was an amazing coach and I contribute a lot of my success to how he ran his program,” Parker said of Ketchum. “I was always trying to prepare myself as much as I could. But so excited. The great thing is not much is going to change. I’ll have my own flair, I’ll have my own touch on it, but things are going to be so transparent and very similar to what we’ve done in the past.”

Building Together

Schrempf, the son of former NBA all-star Detlef Schrempf, took over AHS basketball ahead of the 2016-17 season, and one of his first hires was to bring in Parker as his primary assistant coach.

First year Aspen High School boys basketball coach Cory Parker talks through drills during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, inside the AHS gymnasium. Parker, a 2008 AHS graduate, has taken over the main job from Alex Schrempf after serving as the team's primary assistant coach the past five seasons.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

After going 19-5 in Ketchum’s final season, the program dropped off in a hurry, going 9-11 and 6-14 the next two seasons. The team Schrempf and Parker found themselves in charge of in the early winter of 2016 was one in need of a major reset.

“We had such a common understanding of how we want the game to be played. I got hired just a couple of months after he did, so we built this together. That’s a huge part,” Parker said. “I don’t feel like I’m sliding completely into his shoes. I think I’ve been wearing one of them for a long time, because we were such great partners throughout the whole five years we were together.”

It took time, with AHS going 9-12 in 2016-17, 4-16 in 2017-18 and 7-14 in 2018-19. But the Skiers found success again in 2019-20, going 14-10 and making the state tournament for the first time since Ketchum’s final season.

Despite playing through the pandemic last winter, the 2020-21 season saw AHS take another step, going 13-2 overall and finishing second in the 3A Western Slope League before eventually losing to Sterling by two points in the state quarterfinals.

“We all loved Alex and he was a great coach,” AHS senior Shae Korpela said, “but we all know Cory on a very personal level and we like him as a head coach in that way because he can relate to us as players because he grew up here and he had success in Aspen. He knows what it takes to be good here.”

One of Schrempf’s wishes when he was preparing to leave Aspen this past fall was for Parker to take over as the team’s head coach. Not only did he trust that Parker could handle the reins, but he believed that maintaining continuity would be important for the team to find even more success this winter.

Parker believes much the same, which is why he stresses that little will change with Schrempf gone. Parker will certainly add his own touch, but Schrempf’s fingerprints will also remain.

“He was so meticulous in how he approached his communication, how he created such a great image for the Aspen basketball program,” Parker said. “It was a high expectation, a high standard for myself to step into.

“We have a group of 10 seniors who have been playing with each other for a long, long time. Their continuity, their cohesiveness, is a huge asset to the program. Going into it and having conversations with Alex, I’m going to do my best to make sure we are not disrupting them. It’s all about them. It’s not about Alex leaving, it’s not about me stepping in, it’s about how can we make this as seamless as possible on the court and off the court.”

Great Expectations

Aspen comes into the 2021-22 season with a group of 10 seniors and is preseason No. 6 in Class 3A in the poll, and even received a couple of first-place votes. St. Mary’s is the overwhelming favorite in 3A, followed by No. 2 Sterling, No. 3 Lutheran, No. 4 Manual and No. 5 Colorado Academy. Lutheran beat St. Mary’s back in March in the state championship game.

Wyoming transplant Porter Lee, who first played with the Skiers last season, and the Korpela brothers of Braden and Shae will lead a deep unit. Braden Korpela led the team with 11 points per game last season, while Lee wasn’t far behind at nearly 10 points per game.

“I’m excited that with a big senior class we have a lot of people that can go in and contribute,” Lee said. “This year for me personally, it’s going to be a lot better because we’ve had a whole summer playing together and this season, we all know our tendencies and we can add on to those tendencies and be better than last year.”

A handful of Aspen’s expected key players this season paired up with other standout players from the Roaring Fork Valley and surrounding communities to take part in a traveling AAU team over the summer. That team, led in large part by Schrempf and Parker, saw a lot of success against out-of-state competition, and the coaches see it as experience that should elevate basketball in the region as a whole.

“He’s pretty much been a head coach alongside Alex, so I think it’s going to be good with him,” Braden Korpela said of Parker stepping in as the head coach. “We are feeling really good. We are obviously going to try and make a push for the state championship and try to win it. We got knocked out in the Elite Eight last year, so we are going to try and not let that happen this year and try to win that state championship.”

Aspen’s first game is 7 p.m. Tuesday at home against Vail Mountain. Parker said he’ll sit pretty much where he did on the bench the past five seasons — he’s adopted a more collegiate approach to designating spots on the bench — so his view will largely be the same.

But he’s excited to use his voice from the sideline more as the head coach this winter and like the players is embracing the team’s high standards, the same standards he and Schrempf have spent the past five seasons laying the foundation for.

“Winning the Western Slope League is 100% a team goal that we have,” Parker said. “We have very high expectations. Getting to the Great Eight last year and only losing to a great Sterling team by a bucket lets them know they are capable of playing with some of the best teams in Colorado.”