Aspen boys hoops riding the wave |

Aspen boys hoops riding the wave

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Aspen High boys basketball coach Steve Ketchum figured 2009 would be a rebuilding year.

Cory Parker, 3A’s Mr. Basketball and arguably the greatest player to ever don the black and red, moved on to the Division I ranks at Drake University. Gone, too, are high-flying Michael Taylor and a host of talented role players that helped pave the way to a state semifinal birth.

Just one starter from 2008’s squad ” guard Matthew Holmes ” remains.

No one saw this coming.

“I thought we’d be competitive, maybe top four in the league,” Ketchum said Tuesday. “I would not be surprised if we had three or four [losses] by now, without a doubt. I’m shocked that we don’t.”

The surprise Skiers are 13-0 overall and 10-0 in the competitive 3A Western Slope ” two games clear of nearest competitor Coal Ridge. Perhaps more impressive, Aspen has vaulted into third in the Rocky Mountain News’ latest hoops poll.

“[The players] are very proud. I don’t know if it’s sunk in,” Ketchum said. “I can’t see that the kids feel any pressure. They’re kind of surprised and shocked by the success, but they’re enjoying it.”

The Skiers pulled out a convincing 59-50 win in Gunnison on Friday night. Trevor Watson celebrated his 18th birthday with 18 points and Walker Abrahamovich patrolled the paint on both offense and defense en route to a double-double. Holmes pitched in with 12 points and the Aspen defense held Cowboys guard Josh Finney to six points. Finney had 20 during a Dec. 19 overtime thriller in which the Skiers prevailed, 66-64.

Had it not been for a Gunnison 25-footer as the buzzer sounded Friday, the Skiers would have secured an eighth consecutive double-digit victory.

So much for rebuilding.

Now, Ketchum is openly wondering whether this year’s squad is better than last year’s and whether Aspen can achieve perfection.

Six regular-season games remain.

“I am the one who will mention it. I think it’s OK to hang a carrot out there, something exciting to look forward to,” Ketchum said. “The other day at practice, Matt Holmes turns to me and says, ‘Coach, one game at a time. Let’s get a win Friday night.’

“I think we’re all starting to get excited now that it’s actually a possibility. I wouldn’t have set it as our top priority at the beginning of the season, but wow, it’s a real possibility.”

The road to 19-0 will not be easy. After Friday’s home game against Olathe ” statistically the Slope’s worst team ” the Skiers travel to New Castle to take on 11-2 Coal Ridge. And after Tuesday’s home tussle with rival Basalt, Grand Valley comes calling Feb. 13.

The Cardinals, last year’s runner-up in 2A, have won six of seven since a Jan. 10 loss to Aspen.

“Were we to stumble along the way, it certainly would not kill us. It would be a slap in the face and a wake-up call,” Ketchum said. “I’d like to see us go undefeated and ride this wave as far as it could possibly go.

“These kids continue to surprise me against the best teams. … They step up and play unbelievable two-minute stretches where we look like a final four team.”

Don’t book a trip to Fort Collins just yet, Ketchum cautioned. First, the Skiers will have to alleviate stretches of lackluster play when they tend to lose focus and play down to the level of weaker opposition.

The coach is not letting his players get complacent.

“I tell you, the kids are working hard and they’re tired. They’re doing so much conditioning and running that they keep looking at me and saying, ‘Why are we doing this? We’re undefeated,'” Ketchum said. “This is one of the reasons why we’re where we are. … I tell them that the greater the prize, the greater the price required.”

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