Hoops: Ketchum preaching patience with unproven Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Hoops: Ketchum preaching patience with unproven Aspen

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesAspen's Bridger Dawson shoots over Faith Christian's Hayden Loudenslager during March's 3A state championship game in Fort Collins.

ASPEN – Steve Ketchum routinely has been asked the same question this offseason.

How is the Aspen boys basketball team going to fare this winter?

The veteran head coach admits he is not quite sure how to respond.

“My standard answer is ‘Different,'” Ketchum said Wednesday afternoon. “Different from everything we’ve gotten used to over the last three or four years. Different in every stretch of the imagination from top to bottom. “

Just one starter – senior Bridger Dawson – returns from a 2009-10 squad that won 26 games, advanced to a third consecutive Great 8 and came within one win of clinching the program’s first 3A state championship.

Only Dawson and junior Jake Nugent have prior varsity experience. The rest of the roster is stocked with unproven and largely unknown players who suited up for junior varsity a season ago. Ketchum said he has yet to decide who will start tonight’s season opener against visiting Meeker.

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Needless to say, Ketchum is preaching patience – to both Aspen players and fans.

“I’m earning my paycheck this year,” the coach joked. “I’m well prepared for a huge dose of humble pie. … It may not sound like it, but I’m trying to be positive. We’ll be a heck of a lot better at the end of the year than we are at the start. That’s an absolute guarantee.”

The young Skiers will lean heavily on Dawson, a role player for much of last season who burst onto the scene during the state tournament in Fort Collins.

Dawson sprouted about 3 inches and gained about 30 pounds this offseason – he is now 6-foot-9 and weighs about 215 pounds. His performance in early-season workouts has Ketchum convinced Dawson, an All-State honorable-mention and All-Conference first-team selection last year, will be a contender for both 3A Western Slope and state player of the year honors.

The versatile big man last month signed a letter of intent to attend Division II Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

While he played sparingly last season, Nugent, a tight end on the football team, has the athleticism and size to help create a formidable Aspen front line, Ketchum said.

“[Dawson] has incredible potential … and [Nugent] is a super aggressive banger and such a strong athlete,” Ketchum said. “To be honest with you, everything else is a total question mark.

“The door is wide open. Maybe that’s one of the most exciting things about it. Everybody is going to have opportunities to shine.”

Among those expected to contribute are:

• Michael Schwartz, whose athleticism and hard work has impressed coaches

• James Powell, who likely will replace All-State honorable mention Matthew Holmes at point guard

• Stephen Papenfus, younger brother of former Slope player of the year and All-State first-team selection Andrew Papenfus, who possesses impressive shooting range

• Clayton Crawford, a standout freshman golfer who Ketchum has compared favorably to former Skiers star Cory Parker on the hardwood

“He’s shocking the coaching staff and shocking his teammates. He’s a real bright spot,” Ketchum said of Crawford. “He’s got a chance to start right now. I’m not kidding. If a kid comes out of eighth grade and has a chance to start, that should tell you where we’re at. A lot of work needs to be done.”

This weekend will provide a stiff test. After tonight’s tussle with guard-heavy Meeker, traditionally one of 2A’s top programs, Aspen will host 4A Eagle Valley at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

“It will be a great year if we finish in the top half [of the league] and qualify for playoffs. That’s just being realistic,” Ketchum said. “But is anything possible? Absolutely.”

BASALT – A late-season rally helped propel the Longhorns to a third-place finish in the district tournament and an unlikely state tournament berth.

Senior-laden Basalt gave Buena Vista quite a scare in the first round before losing, finishing the season at 10-13.

Head coach Jon Pettit believes the Longhorns have the pieces in place to make a similar run this winter – even after losing 11 seniors, eight of which logged considerable playing time.

Basalt kicks off the season Friday against Glenwood Springs in the Brenda Patch Tournament at Roaring Fork High School.

“We’re replacing quite a bit, but in some positions we’re getting more athletic,” the coach said. “We’ll miss that senior leadership [from players] like Omar Lopez and David [Gruenefeldt], but it’s an exciting time. We’ve got some good athletes coming in.”

Three players with varsity experience return – Blake Scherer, Sam Morrison and Scott Riggins. Pettit expects big things from a host of others, including Rory Mackey, Hector Morales, Johnson Emerson, J.R. Krueger, Santiago Marciani and Craig Riggins.

“I don’t know if we have a lot of varsity experience, but we have some basketball experience,” Pettit said. “As long as we do a good job of improving day in and day out, we should be in the mix at least. Hopefully we improve on last year’s record and give ourselves a chance in the middle of February to maybe play our way in again or make a run at a conference title. … I think [the Western Slope] is wide open. It’ll come down to who gets better after Christmas.”

He added: “We’ll see how injuries and grades go. … We had a lot of off-the-court issues last year that we couldn’t seem to dodge. We’re focused this year on being accountable and showing good character.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com