Tough opening slate for Aspen hoops | AspenTimes.com

Tough opening slate for Aspen hoops

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Kelley Cox Post Independent

ASPEN – The Aspen boys basketball program was the best in the conference last winter.

Now, the Skiers might just be the biggest question mark.

Gone are five players – four starters – from last year’s league and district champion squad, which won 19 of 24 games and came within three points of a return trip to the Great 8 in Fort Collins.

As if replacing that production was not difficult enough, Aspen will be attempting to do so while navigating one of its toughest non-conference slates in recent memory. The Skiers open the 2012-13 season in Thursday’s Demon Invitational against host Glenwood Springs. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Friday, Aspen will take on undefeated Eagle Valley, which has dispatched 3A Western Slope foes Roaring Fork and Basalt by a combined tally of 138-78. And Saturday, the Skiers will square off with six-time defending 3A state champion Faith Christian.

“Absolutely brutal are the words that come to mind. The schedule for this first weekend couldn’t be any tougher,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said Wednesday. “Maybe (athletic director Carol Sams) is putting me on the hot seat. She must’ve forgotten that most of our team graduated.

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“In my mind, we’ve got a bright future. It’s very possible that we’re going to struggle early, though, especially because we’re so young.”

Ketchum will be working at least six sophomores and juniors into a rotation he hopes can fill the void left by a talented 2012 class. Among those who shined for the Skiers during last year’s postseason run were Slope player of the year Austin Roark, who now plays for NAIA Loyola University New Orleans, and Jake Nugent, whom Ketchum called the league’s top fourth man.

Aspen also will miss Quinn Morehead’s game-changing athleticism, the contributions of James Powell, who emerged as the team’s most productive 3-point threat, and the consistent ball handling of guard Daniel Amador, who transferred to a school in San Antonio, Tex.

“What a huge blow. That’s probably 95 percent of our scoring, rebounding, everything,” Ketchum opined. “It feels like we lost everybody.”

Some talented players remain, principally juniors Clayton Crawford and Trent Lichtenwalter and senior Daniel Schwartz.

“Clayton and Trent, those two kids have been the hardest workers in the program since last March. They’ve absolutely dedicated almost every day of their lives to being in the weight room, doing CrossFit, working on ball handling and shooting. They’ve improved dramatically,” Ketchum said. “And Dan brings the tough guy, smash-mouth-football mentality to basketball, which we need. We have some positives, which gives you hope.”

Ketchum also is banking on contributions from Josh Baker, Evan Patzoldt, Jesse Beetham, Levi Wright and Dominick Alcorta.

The coach also said he expects Skiers quarterback Luke Rider to work his way into the rotation as the season progresses.

“He’s the quickest kid in our program by far. We’re excited about his athletic ability,” Ketchum said. “We’re hoping there will be a couple surprises, but it may be until Christmas before we figure it all out.”

As such, Ketchum said he won’t read too much into this weekend’s results.

“We’re trying to take the pressure off the kids. We know they’re going to make mistakes, miss a lay-up or a free throw,” he added. “All we’re asking is that they do what we’ve been working on as best they can and have some fun and enjoy the games. I know they’re feeling that nervous tension and are going to have the shakes at the start. This is not football, where you can go and hit somebody. You have to handle the rock, shoot well and think and make rapid decisions. I just told them, ‘Hey, let’s just get better so we’re really good by the end of the year.’

“It’ll be a great challenge for us, but we’ll get to see what we’re made of early in the year. I’m looking forward to it.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com