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Aspen boys begin quest to be the best

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN The question is inevitable, no matter who Steve Ketchum talks with.Is this year’s Aspen boys basketball team the best in school history?The Skiers (17-2 overall, 14-0 3A Western Slope) make one compelling case. They have won 15 straight and, by virtue of Friday’s victory over Cedaredge, completed a perfect conference season and clinched their first league title in eight years. But hold off on crowning them just yet, the head coach said Sunday.”The history books have yet to be rewritten,” Ketchum added. “For our kids, it’s all about how far they go in the playoffs. They want to leave their mark and do something special. They took that first step.”The next step begins tonight, when Aspen hosts Hotchkiss at 7 p.m. in the district tournament’s opening round. The top-seeded Skiers routed the eighth-seeded Bulldogs (1-15) by a total of 111 points in two regular-season wins. Should Aspen advance, it would be assured a spot in the state tournament and a berth in Friday’s district semifinals at 8 p.m. at Palisade High School. A victory in Saturday’s championship game at 5:30 p.m. would guarantee the Skiers the chance to host a four-team regional the following weekend.The significance of this tournament is not lost on Ketchum. Aspen lost last year’s district championship to Roaring Fork and, consequently, had to travel to Sheridan for the first round. “We were playing for a league championship, but now that’s over,” Ketchum said. “It’s all about seeding for the state tournament and hosting a regional so we don’t have to travel. That was frustrating last year. … You never want that feeling again.”All-State senior Cory Parker was his usual dominant self in last year’s opening round, scoring 28 points against Roosevelt. Unfortunately for Aspen, the rest of the team scored just 12, and the Skiers were upset, 43-40. It wasn’t the first time Ketchum and the Skiers have been stung in postseason play. A shot at the buzzer cost Aspen a Great 8 berth in 1999-2000. The Skiers made it to Fort Collins one year later, and promptly dropped both games.”You remember things that hurt most in life more than you remember the good things that happen,” Ketchum said. “We lost to a team [last year] that we were better than. It stayed with us a long long time. It’s still there. Trust me, I’ll be reminding them about it every day.”Ketchum said he won’t allow his team to overlook anybody. The Skiers are preparing for every conceivable situation, from teams holding the ball to overcoming their own shooting woes. Aspen missed more than 10 lay-ups and scored just 25 points in the first half Friday against the Bruins, only to rebound with 55 second-half points. Looming large is another potential pitfall: a third bout with Roaring Fork. Aspen won both regular-season classics, topping the Rams by a combined six points, including a two-point victory Feb. 19 on a late dunk from senior Michael Taylor. “I’d rather not see it. It’s so hard to beat somebody three times, especially when you’re that close,” Ketchum said. “It’d be a great thing for the fans, but certainly not for us.”The Skiers’ triumph over the Rams, a perennial state tournament fixture (they won last year’s consolation bracket state championship in Fort Collins), was their first since 2003. The apparent shift in the balance of power has left many, from parents, teachers, students and even Plum TV on-air personalities, wondering if this is Ketchum’s best team in his decade-long tenure.It’s time to find out.”This state tournament will be the last thing [this team] leaves behind,” Ketchum said. “They have a chance to leave their mark and forever be a part of history. Let’s see what we can do.”jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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