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Aspen hoops teams bound for Europe

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Steve Ketchum relishes his opportunities to return to Europe, where he once spent three years as head coach of a professional men’s basketball team in Germany.

The Aspen High boys basketball coach is heading back Friday. He’ll have company.

Ketchum and two boys teams from Aspen ” a total of 27 players, from eighth-graders to high school seniors ” will take part in a two-week trip to Germany, France and Austria to compete against some of Europe’s most promising young club teams.

“The kids are bouncing off the walls. I don’t think anyone’s slept for a few days,” the coach said Wednesday. “I’m thrilled to be able to provide this for them. … This will be an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of these kids ” twice in a lifetime for Matt Holmes and Devin Kahn.”

Holmes and Kahn were freshman when Ketchum and 12 players made the inaugural trip in 2006.

This time around, the group will depart from Denver International Airport and head to Frankfurt, Germany. From there, they will board a tour bus bound for Karlsruhe in the country’s Black Forest region, about 20 kilometers from the French border. Highlights of the first week will include day trips to Heidleberg and Freiberg to visit age-old castles and cathedrals as well as an excursion to Strasbourg to play a French club team.

During the second week, the group will head to Garmisch in Bavaria ” one of Aspen’s sister cities. In addition to taking on other teams there, they will visit Austria.

Ketchum’s goal: To introduce his players to the international game ” one replete with 24-second clocks, wide lanes, longer 3-point lines and fast-paced tempo ” and to introduce them to a new culture.

“The basketball part is almost a secondary thing,” Ketchum said. “When they get away from their parents, from their family and see a different part of the world, they come back and seem like a different person. … It changes people.”

Ketchum was teaching and coaching in Kansas City years back when an opportunity to coach overseas unexpectedly presented itself. He and a group of students took a 10-day trip to Germany during one Christmas break. Upon their arrival in Karlsruhe, Ketchum read a newspaper article about the local pro team looking for a replacement for their fired coach.

Purely on a whim, Ketchum decided to inquire about the opening. One two-hour interview later, he was offered the job. With the backing of his athletic director, principal and school board in Kansas City, Ketchum moved to Germany to inherit a team that was 1-14.

They finished with 14 wins in their final 21 games, and Ketchum was offered a three-year extension. During subsequent years, he oversaw youth developmental and professional teams, and even had the opportunity to coach against current Dallas Mavericks standout Dirk Nowitzki.

“I watched him go from [6-foot-7] to 6-9 to 6-11, and he beat us all six times,” Ketchum joked. “The last time he played us, he had 40 points and sat out the last quarter of the game.”

Despite the unenviable task of coaching against an NBA All-Star, Ketchum fondly recalls his time in Germany. It was something he said he was eager to share.

“It was an incredibly experience for me, and I learned a lot,” he added. “I remember thinking it would be so valuable to share those kinds of experiences with high school kids.”

Ketchum said he always expected friends from German club teams to bring their players to America. When that never materialized, he decided to hatch a plan of his own.

That plan materialized in 2006. After this trip, Ketchum, who runs the Aspen Basketball Academy, said he plans to give kids from all over the valley, state and even country the opportunity to participate in future trips.

A girls camp in Hawaii is already in the works for next summer.

“There’s a lot of bonding going on, a lot of doing unusual things in exotic locations,” Ketchum said. “It gets the kids turned on. It gets them so excited about the possibilities.”

Benefits for the high school program cannot be understated, either. Two years after the 2006 trip, the Skiers advanced to the 3A state tournament semifinals. Many of the players from last winter’s Western Slope, district and regional championship squad will be making this trip.

Playing top-flight competition can do nothing but help going forward, Ketchum said. But what happens off the hardwood the next two weeks will ultimately prove to be more valuable.

“The most exciting thing for me is to see our kids interact with other European kids … to sit down after a game, share a meal and talk about girls, life, anything,” he added. “To me, that’s where the rubber meet the road. … They will be a little more knowledgeable and understand the world a lot better. … I think they’ll come back with a huge understanding of the bigger picture.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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