Aspen hoops: Postcards from Europe
July 3, 2009
ASPEN – With their recent European vacation drawing to a close, Aspen High head basketball coach Steve Ketchum gathered his upperclassmen in a Munich hotel room.
He asked each player to share some of their most vivid memories from the two-week excursion to Germany, France and Australia to square off with some of the area’s promising club teams.
There was plenty to choose from, both on and off the court. So much that it was difficult to choose just a few, guard Andrew Papenfus said Wednesday.
“It was a wonderful time, a great experience basketball-wise and culture-wise,” the senior added. “It went up and beyond my expectations.”
All players shared that sentiment as they went around the room, Ketchum said. Some gushed about the German and French food and of visiting Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein, the inspiration for Disneyland’s Cinderella’s Castle. “The work that went into that castle was amazing,” Papenfus said. “In the king’s room, the tour we had, they said 14 different wood carvers took four years to finish.”
Others recalled touring ancient cathedrals and strolling through the streets of Strasbourg, France – “We had the Paparazzi going, taking pictures of everything,” Ketchum remembered.
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They biked through Bavaria and waded in glacier-fed fresh water lakes in the Alps. They bravely took on alpine slides, trampolines and zip lines – some more successfully than others.
There were also more somber and reflective moments, none bigger than touring the Dachau concentration camp.
“It was shocking,” Papenfus said. “No one said really much of anything. It took the words right out of everyone’s mouth.”
“We had a tour guide explaining things that the kids would never hear about or read in any textbook in history class,” Ketchum added. “It hit home so strongly. … It changes your perception of the world and makes you appreciate what you have so much.
“It was one of the deeper moments, let’s put it that way. We did have a lot of fun, too.”
And played a lot of basketball, eight games in all. Their indoctrination into the world of European hoops was frustrating at times – traveling is more strictly enforced and quirky rules regarding technicals and intentional fouls take some getting used to – but also quite colorful. This was especially true of the team’s visit to a tiny gym in Penzberg, south of Munich.
The two teams squared off on a practice facility side court – curtains were dropped on either side to cordon off the game from those playing badminton and handball, Ketchum said. Moments before tip off, German students, leaving school for the end of the term, boisterously filed into the gym with beers in hand.
“They had megaphones and were singing German songs in unison and making fun of everybody on the court,” Ketchum recalled. “Needless to say, we had a pretty rough start. We missed about 25 free throws in that game.
“Our kids were sitting on the bench, looking across at the other side and watching the German kids all drinking and shouting. It was like being at a professional soccer match. I said, ‘Hey guys, this is Euro basketball.'”
The experience might have been foreign, but Aspen more than held its own. The Skiers’ JV squad went 4-2-2, while the varsity was mere minutes away from going undefeated. They led club juggernaut Bayern Munchen, a squad littered with
college-level talent, by 10 late in the second half before a string of untimely technicals and cold shooting cost Aspen a victory.
“That last game got a little rough,” said guard Matthew Holmes, whose shirt was covered in blood after he hurt his nose in a collision.
“We played in an old practice facility on a sick surface. There was no traction and it was a hot, humid day, so the floor got wet,” Ketchum added. “Officials were literally letting both teams tackle each other. It was like a rugby game. … It was a slugfest.”
But no matter how physical matches turned out to be, Aspen and its opponents always lined up to shake hands afterward. In many cases, the teams also sat down and shared dinner.
Such interactions were the things Ketchum said he will remember most. That, not the basketball nor the sight-seeing, is the reason he first decided to organize a second European trip – he made the first one three years ago.
“For me, just being able to be with guys outside of basketball and see them do other things and … interact with the French and German people, and watch them laugh and smile and get along so great is so cool,” Ketchum said. “When you get to know them, you realize, ‘My God, they’re exactly like us. They just speak another language.’
“It was just amazing. … I learned so much. I can only imagine what the kids got out of it.”
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