Aspen hoops standout Dawson picks Rollins College | AspenTimes.com

Aspen hoops standout Dawson picks Rollins College

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Robin Smith/Special to The Aspen TimesAspen's Bridger Dawson drives to the basket during a March 5 game against The Academy at Aspen High School.

ASPEN – Steve Ketchum admits he hardly recognized Bridger Dawson when the senior recently showed up for preseason workouts.

The 6-foot-6, 180-pounder he remembered from last season’s run to the state championship game had sprouted nearly 3 inches and gained more than 30 pounds.

And Dawson’s game? Even the veteran Aspen head coach was awestruck.

“Sometimes my jaw just drops. I can’t believe how good this kid looks. … It’s like he became a man overnight,” Ketchum said Tuesday. “People won’t believe it when they see him. I can’t believe it either.

“This kid can literally be the player of the year in Colorado. He has that potential.”

Coaches at Division II Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., see the possibilities, too. The perennial Sunshine State Conference power, ranked 17th in the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ preseason poll, recently offered Dawson a full scholarship.

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Monday, with parents Dave and Cris by his side, Dawson officially signed his national letter of intent.

“Things just fell into place,” Dave Dawson said Wednesday. “We’re all just kind of in a state of shock. … It’s almost serendipitous the way it worked out.”

Bridger Dawson’s link to Rollins goes back a few years. His cousin, a Florida resident and former classmate of one of the Tars’ assistant coaches, suggested a few years ago that the team take a look at Dawson.

He also routinely prodded Dawson’s parents to bring their son to Florida to tour the school. Both Dave and Cris Dawson said Bridger initially was not ready to take that step.

“That was about three years ago. … That was a little too early in the game. Bridger was a little young and immature,” Dave Dawson said. “He was getting hurt fairly regularly because he was growing so fast … and it just wasn’t the right time. We didn’t know what he was going to do.”

That hesitation changed after Bridger’s breakout junior season. While he began as a role player on a squad stacked with veteran talent, Dawson emerged as a go-to player by season’s end. He averaged more than eight points and four rebounds per game and showed flashes of dominance – none more impressive than a 22-point outburst against Coal Ridge in which he missed just two of 13 shot attempts.

Dawson also turned some heads during Aspen’s third consecutive trip to the 3A Great 8 in Fort Collins. His 11 clutch points in the state semifinals against Buena Vista helped the Skiers secure a spot in the program’s first state title game.

For his efforts, Dawson garnered Western Slope first-team and All-State honorable mention honors.

“That gave him a little bit of credibility,” Dave Dawson said. “We started thinking, ‘Oh, there is a chance he can play some ball in college.'”

This summer, in addition to embarking on a demanding workout regimen, Dawson created two videos showcasing his skills and game highlights to both send to colleges and post on YouTube. The footage, which totals about 13 minutes, has generated more than 600 views to date on the web.

He sent the videos and a letter to Rollins before the start of the school year.

“They got back to me almost immediately,” Dawson recalled. “They said they were really interested and that they had a scholarship and everything. It was pretty crazy. I still don’t know what to think.”

Soon after, Dawson formerly was offered a scholarship and was given a plane ticket to Florida.

He and his parents made the more than 2,000-mile trek in late October.

“The weather and everything was perfect,” Cris Dawson recalled. “It was almost like it was staged.”

Added her husband: “They actually said [Bridger] was the kid they’ve been looking for … and that they were going to try and build the team around him. … They saw the potential. … They could see that next year he will be that much farther along, and that’s the way they wanted to set up their team.

“When he saw the place and met everybody that was there, I don’t think at that point there was another question. … I don’t think it hurt seeing a bunch of co-eds lounging around the pool doing their homework.”

Bridger Dawson contemplated delaying his signing and seeing where interest from Division I schools could lead. He had preliminary discussions with the University of Colorado, Colorado State and Denver University, among others.

But in the end, Rollins’ offer – which includes a financial package that exceeds $200,000 – was too good to pass up.

The school even threw in season tickets for Dawson’s relatives and, most important, a second meal card.

“My job’s getting close to being over. All I do is cook all the time, and I can’t fill the kid,” Cris Dawson joked. “It’ll be somebody else’s job next year.”

Ketchum is convinced his standout made the right decision.

“This is the biggest scholarship offer I’ve ever heard of at Aspen,” the coach said. “I know he would’ve loved to hold out for the potential dream of playing at a D-I school, but you have to look at the downside. If he gets injured or sick or has a bad year and didn’t sign, that scholarship doesn’t exist anymore. It goes to someone else. How can you pass that up?”

The Dawsons are excited the recruiting process is over. Now, they can enjoy their son’s final season with the Skiers.

“My son is happy, and that’s what counts,” Cris Dawson said. “It was all meant to be.”

Added Dave Dawson: “This is a big weight off all of our shoulders. I don’t think I’ve seen Bridger smile so much in his life.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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