State basketball preview: Veteran Skiers face young Cougars in quarterfinal round
Teams play at 10:15 a.m. Thursday inside DU’s Hamilton Gym
The University of Denver’s Hamilton Gymnasium is hardly foreign terrain to Cory Parker. The Aspen High School boys basketball coach and 2008 AHS alumnus played many AAU games there as an athlete, and even took an official visit to DU before eventually playing collegiately at Drake.
Now he’s back with the Skiers for the Class 3A state tournament on Thursday, and he had the chance to take the AHS players inside the DU gym on Wednesday afternoon to give them an early taste of what it’ll be like come game time.
“It’s cool. The guys will be excited,” Parker said earlier Wednesday from Denver. “We just got to get them playing inside out, not just coming out and shooting right off the bat. The depth perception just takes some adjusting to get used to.”
Aspen (24-0), the tournament’s No. 3 seed, takes its undefeated record into the state quarterfinals against No. 6 seed Resurrection Christian (19-5). They get the earliest of the four 3A boys games on Thursday at DU with the 10:15 a.m. start time. The 3A girls games are also being played in the same gym, a group that includes both No. 4 seed Grand Valley and No. 10 seed Delta out of the Western Slope League.
The Skiers are looking for their first state championship in boys basketball after multiple close calls. Parker’s own team got to the semifinals his senior season, and the 2009-10 team reached 26-0 before losing in the championship game.
With 10 seniors to start the season, there’s been a slow build toward another championship shot for the Skiers since Alex Schrempf took over as coach ahead of the 2016-17 season. He stepped down this past summer and handed the reins to Parker, who had been his top assistant over that same time.
“Yeah, it’s intense. You got to continue to calibrate these guys’ expectations and understand that this is a huge weekend, a huge event,” Parker said of playing at state and having the championship so close. “We’ve been talking about it. Especially for these seniors, we know they’ve been waiting for this and working for this for a very long time. You just got to go and play basketball. You just got to go want it more than the other team. You have the skills, you have the preparation already. Now it’s just a matter of your mindset and your mentality.”
Should Aspen advance Thursday, it would face either No. 2 Sterling or No. 7 Manual (1:15 p.m. Thursday) in the semifinal round at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Sterling knocked Aspen out of the state tournament in the quarterfinal round last winter.
The other half of the 3A boys bracket has No. 1 St. Mary’s facing No. 8 Eagle Ridge Academy at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, and No. 5 Centauri playing No. 4 Colorado Academy in the 8:30 p.m. nightcap. There is a third-place game on Saturday, so any winning team from Thursday’s quarterfinal round is guaranteed to play into the weekend.
Here are some other storylines ahead of Aspen’s quarterfinal game against Resurrection Christian:
Rise and shine
Parker had the Skiers practice early in the morning on Tuesday and Wednesday in order to prepare for the early 10:15 a.m. tip off on Thursday. He doesn’t expect it to impact the players.
“Somebody’s got to play early, and it was a little bit earlier than we expected, but we are OK with it,” Parker said. “We are definitely looking at the silver linings of it. When we get the win, it will be great to have some extra recovery time. We can kind of relax and watch the rest of the games tomorrow without much anxiety or nerves. In that way, it’s good.”
A young opponent
The Cougars are certainly battle tested, having faced some of the top teams in the state. Among the teams they lost to are St. Mary’s (81-63 on Dec. 10) and Sterling (52-38 on Feb. 26). They also beat Sterling earlier in the season, 56-53 on Feb. 4.
However, Resurrection Christian is much younger than Aspen. Leading the team with 14.4 points per game is a freshman in Ty Yoder, while a sophomore, Jacob Barker, is third on the team with 8.2 points a contest.
“They got some young guys that are kind of true freshmen and playing some good basketball. They shoot the ball pretty well from the 3-point line, so we are definitely going to have to get out there and make those tough shots and contest them,” Parker said. “Their point guard does a great job of getting in the paint and being the facilitator, so we’ll have to slow him down a little bit, for sure. Then just do our part against their big fella, make sure that we are playing strong and physical and keep them off the glass, make sure that everybody is under their average.”
Parker also said the Cougars like to play man-to-man defense and that the Skiers will need to expect a physical ball game.
“They take pride in that, so it will be a good, physical battle, just going at each other,” he said.
Not many teams can claim to be as experienced as Aspen. Aside from freshman Tommy Franceschi, who comes off the bench, no other non-senior has played meaningful minutes for the Skiers this season, and that includes a non-existent junior class.
Shae Korpela leads the team in scoring (he averaged 16.2 points per contest through 19 games), while his brother Braden Korpela and Porter Lee aren’t far behind at just shy of 14 points per game.
“Our experience will definitely help a little bit with the X’s and O’s out on the court,” Parker said. “We still just got to acknowledge these nerves that we have and create a better awareness about them, because that was a big factor, the nerves, the last couple of games we had. So they are experienced, but we are all human and we have these emotions. So we got to be able to have that awareness and understand how it impacts us on the court and make adjustments based off of that.”
Aspen has become notorious this season for starting slow. On the flip side, there might not be a better group at closing out a game than the Skiers.
A good example was their Sweet 16 game on Saturday against No. 14 Englewood, in which they trailed at halftime but managed to pull away in the fourth quarter to win, 51-38.
“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse. It gets frustrating when you see they are so capable of playing at a high tempo and an aggressive mentality and it’s just showing we sometimes pick and choose when we want to bring it,” Parker said. “We just got to come out with the mentality of we are better than you and we know we are better than you and we are going to play like we are better than you right off the bat. There is a fine line. We don’t want to force things. We respect their good defenders they have, but we still just got to play with confidence.”
Members of the valley’s Jewish community gathered at the Albright Pavilion at Aspen Meadows Thursday for their second annual menorah lighting ceremony to celebrate and acknowledge the first day of Hanukkah.