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Aspen hoops trying to weather storm

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim RyanSkiers guard Andrew Papenfus soars to block Coal Ridge center Alex Klein's shot during Saturday's 3A Western Slope district tournament championship at Palisade High School. Papenfus injured his knee during practice Tuesday, and his status for this weekend's regionals is in doubt.
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ASPEN ” Steve Ketchum is exhausted.

Instead of gushing about his team garnering the No. 1 overall seed in the upcoming state tournament ” a first in school history ” or breaking down Friday’s regional showdown with Bayfield in the round of 32, the Aspen boys basketball coach was talking Wednesday about massages, sitting in a hot tub and seeing a chiropractor.

This fairytale season, one replete with a 21-1 record and 3A Western Slope regular-season and district titles, has hit a major ” and untimely ” bump. An injury and a noticeable decline in effort in recent days has Ketchum hoping his Skiers will not be bounced right out of the postseason.

“It’s been a bizarre, bizarre week,” a subdued Ketchum said. “I’m stressed out. … First of all, we play great, phenomenal [in districts], then get a number one seed in state. Whether we deserved it or not, I have absolutely no idea. … You feel this pressure now to live up to expectations, but you expect the kids to be really fired up about it. Instead, we’ve had the worst week of practice since we started this season.”

After three days of practice, Ketchum said he is questioning his team’s attitude and motivation. Play has been sloppy and uninspired, and many players have been less than cooperative about participating in conditioning drills.

Things came to a head Monday when one unidentified team captain was nearly kicked out of the gym, Ketchum said.

“My biggest fear is that the kids are so happy with how the season has progressed and what we’ve accomplished that they’re thinking, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter what happens from here,'” Ketchum added. “We can’t have that at all. That’s the kiss of death.

“We’re one of the few, one of the fortunate, the blessed, whatever. We’re playing for the biggest stakes of all. To not absolutely thrive on that and be passionate about it and enjoy it is beyond me as a basketball coach.”

Work ethic hasn’t been the only issue plaguing the Skiers. Senior Trevor Watson, one of four players averaging double figures, missed Monday’s and Tuesday’s practice because of the flu. Key reserve Nicky Fuller showed up sick Tuesday.

To make matters worse, guard Andrew Papenfus sprained his MCL midway through Tuesday’s practice. The junior, the leading scorer in Saturday’s 70-40 rout of Coal Ridge in the district tournament championship game, was participating in a full-court fast break challenge drill when his leg got caught on a defender’s and was twisted. It’s just the latest setback for Papenfus, who broke his collarbone in a practice collision in December.

His status for this weekend is in doubt, Ketchum said.

“Right now it’s not looking good for him,” the coach added. “It would be difficult to overcome, and we’re going to need somebody or more than one person step up and play the game of their lives. … When one of your best players is out of the lineup, everything changes dramatically.”

Papenfus was expected to be fitted for a brace today.

“We need to figure out how to weather this storm and fight through it and make it happen anyway,” Ketchum said. “If we play like we practiced this week, we’re going to get knocked off in the first game. And if we’re fortunate enough to make it to that second game and play like this, we’re going to get beat by 30 or 40.”

First up is Friday’s game against No. 8 Bayfield, which finished third in the four-team Intermountain conference and at 7-13 is statistically the worst team in the field. But the Wolverines are riding high after pulling off an upset of Monte Vista in the district semifinals to secure a regional berth. In that game, five players scored in double figures and another had nine points. Senior Jesse McCoy led the way with 16.

Should the Skiers advance, they’ll likely face No. 4 Platte Valley. The Broncos (16-7), who square off with No. 5 Buena Vista (13-10) in Friday’s earlier semifinal at Aspen High, were ranked fourth in the Denver Post’s preseason hoops poll. Despite an injury to one of their best players, they finished 8-3 in a highly competitive Patriot League, which features perennial powers Eaton (the 2007 champions and a No. 1 seed this year) and Yuma.

Ketchum isn’t looking beyond today, he said.

“We have one day left to prepare and get focused the right way,” he added. “To be honest with you, there’s only so much the coach can do. … If they really want to do something special and put something in the history books forever, they better get after it because it’s possible.

“How bad do they really want it? We’ll see.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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