Aspen boys basketball has lofty goals for new season
ASPEN – Steve Ketchum usually shies away from offering up bold predictions. Aspen’s boys head basketball coach could not resist this time around, however.”If we are to win a state championship, this is the best opportunity we’ve ever had,” Ketchum said Thursday. “I know I’m dangling a lot out there, but I just feel like all the pieces are in place to do some great things. “A lot of people say ‘Downplay it. Downplay it.’ That’s my normal spin, but this group has the potential to be great.”Such a statement is hardly misguided. After all, Ketchum’s Skiers cruised to consecutive conference and regional titles last season, returned to the Great Eight in Fort Collins and set a school record with 24 wins. Aspen returns 10 seniors – among them reigning 3A Western Slope player of the year and first-team All-State selection Matthew Holmes and Andrew Papenfus, who form one of the state’s most potent backcourts – and are ranked second in The Denver Post’s preseason poll. “It’s a privilege to be ranked that high – I think it’s the highest we’ve ever been at any time,” Ketchum said. “Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, we’re going to find out. … It obviously hasn’t been earned yet, and that’s the point we keep trying to make to the kids.”We would be disappointed if we didn’t make it back to the state tournament, not just getting there but making some noise when we do.”The Skiers’ quest for a third consecutive deep postseason run begins tonight at home against The Classical Academy (8 p.m.). All four area teams will be in action – the Aspen girls take on Battle Mountain at 6:30 p.m., while the Basalt girls (3 p.m.) and boys (5 p.m.) play Rifle in the Brenda Patch Tournament in Carbondale.Nine of Ketchum’s top 11 players, who were part of the football team’s run to the state quarterfinals, enter tonight’s game having missed nearly a week and a half of practice.”Opening night is always a scary night,” added the coach, whose team trailed by as many as 15 in the second half before pulling out win in last year’s opener against Classical. “Absolutely anything can happen. You don’t know anything about your opponents, and they know too much about you. They have a new coach, and I’m probably easy to read. We really don’t know what we’re up against.”The Skiers will not be sneaking up on anyone this winter. Not after a record season, and not with a surplus of talent sure to cause fits for opposing defenses. Holmes, a four-year starter and team captain, was one of the state’s most well-rounded players last season. He averaged 15 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals per contest and showcased the ability to take over games when needed.Despite being hampered by a knee injury, Papenfus pitched in with nearly 14 points per game. At 6-foot-6, he has NBA 3-point range, the ability to take on defenders off the dribble and post up – traits that are drawing the attention of college coaches, Ketchum said.”Matt had a tremendous amount of press [last year], and he deserved every bit. Andrew is one of the best-kept secrets around,” Ketchum said. “He’s going to explode, just watch. … I hope that he just absolutely has a year that shocks everybody, including himself. He has incredible upside and potential.”Those two guys are dominant players, potentially the best two players in the league.”They have a stellar supporting class, led by Zach Babich. The 6-foot-5 forward, who transferred from Key West, Fla., last year, missed the first half of the junior varsity season after breaking his wrist. He made the move to varsity upon his return and showed flashes of dominance, culminating with a 12-point, 10-rebound effort off the bench against Buena Vista in the regional championship game. At this summer’s Aspen Basketball Academy All-Star Game, which featured some of the state’s most promising players, Babich scored 25 points and was named MVP. He will be key in filling the void left by Trevor Watson, who emerged as a consistent post presence last year.”We’re talking about one of the best hidden gyms in Colorado. … He came out of nowhere,” Ketchum said.The coach also expects substantial contributions from seniors Nick Codd, Nicky Fuller, Devin Kahn, Carl Spiroff and Zhen Yi Han, among others. Junior Bridger Dawson, a 6-foot-7 forward and guard who can both dunk and play on the perimeter, could also vie for a starting job, Ketchum said.The depth and diversity of talent gives the coach some enviable versatility.”I think it’ll be fun to watch all the different styles we can play,” Ketchum said. “We can go really small and really quick, go really big and still be quick, play really fast or slow things down and play the half-court game. We’re capable of doing that because of the great experience these kids have. … We literally can start a different starting five ever single time we step onto the court.”Any one of our top nine players is capable of double digits [in scoring] every single night, and three guys are capable of scoring 20. I bet Cory Parker wishes he was playing with this group.”The team will also be buoyed by the mid-season return of Walker Moriarty. The senior, who broke his ankle during a football game in Gunnison, is expected to have pins removed in early January, Ketchum said. He could be back on the court later that month, right in the middle of conference play.”He’ll have that month of February to really help as we move on to the stretch run,” Ketchum said. “He brings a mental and physical toughness out on the court that every team has to have. Without him in there, we’re not quite the same.”The Skiers will be tested early. Tonight’s game is the first of five in the next week before the holiday break. Ketchum said he is excited about his team’s potential, and eager to find out if the Skiers can live up to their advanced billing.”It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish. That’s the bottom line,” the coach added. “Absolutely, they are capable of great things. I pray to God we get it done.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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