Basalt basketball readies for top seed Kent Denver in 3A’s Great 8 |

Basalt basketball readies for top seed Kent Denver in 3A’s Great 8

Basalt junior Justin Henderson takes a shot during Tuesday's practice in Basalt.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

In an ever-changing high school landscape, Kent Denver boys basketball coach Todd Schayes is one of the constants. The team’s head man for 24 years, he’s seen a lot of players come and go. He’s also seen some of them come full circle, like Basalt High School boys basketball coach Danny Martinez, a 2001 BHS graduate.

“I think the last time we played up there, there was a young man named Daniel Martinez who was the star of the team,” Schayes said. “Even though we don’t see each other that much, I’m a big fan of coach Martinez and the Basalt basketball team and the community.”

Schayes has long made the Roaring Fork Valley one of his summer go-to spots. He used to work the Aspen basketball camps back in the 1990s and would often bring his Sun Devil teams to area tournaments. He even tried to set up a scrimmage with Basalt prior to the start of this season, although the schedules didn’t line up.

However, fate has stepped in to make sure Martinez and Schayes are in fact re-united on the court this season. Basalt (21-3), the No. 9 seed, will play No. 1 seed Kent Denver (21-3) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the “Great 8” round of the Class 3A state tournament. The game is being played inside the University of Denver’s Hamilton Gymnasium.

“We’ve watched a lot of film from this team, and I think it’s going to be a pretty good game,” Basalt junior Raul Torres said. “People might think it’s going to be a blowout or something because they are the No. 1 seed, but we are not going to go down there and just give it to them. We are going to fight for it.”

Kent Denver, which went 8-1 to win a very strong Metro league, has long been a force in 3A. The Sun Devils’ only state title came in 1997, with Schayes as coach, but they’ve reached 20 wins multiple times since. Their best season prior to this came in 2012-13, when they finished 25-2 and lost to Pagosa Springs in the state championship game.

Since then, Kent Denver hadn’t advanced past the round of 32, until this season. The team finished 10-13 last winter, but has bounced back strong this year, even if Schayes isn’t fully convinced it is deserving of the tournament’s top seed.

“We’ve known all year that we are nowhere near the No. 1 3A team in the state,” Schayes said. “We know we are probably the underdog, despite saying we are one and Basalt is nine. We know that Basalt was a better program than ours last year. The kids kind of feel like the team coming from the Western Slope is the favorite.”

Two of the three teams Kent Denver lost to — No. 12 seed Alamosa and No. 2 Manitou Springs — also are in 3A’s “Great 8” round. The third and most recent loss came Feb. 10 to Jefferson Academy, a No. 17 seed, which lost in the round of 32.

The Sun Devils have won six straight since that loss.

Basalt’s three losses came against Del Norte — which plays Thursday in Class 2A’s “Great 8” round as a No. 3 seed — and twice to Coal Ridge, including Feb. 25 in the district championship game. No. 7 seed Coal Ridge lost to No. 10 seed Sterling in 3A’s round of 16 last week.

“We all have that mentality to just get in there and win, and that’s what’s most important,” Basalt senior Kyle Roberts said. “We have to run our offense pretty fluently and have no mistakes, play solid ‘D’ and contest shots and just play hard.”

This is Basalt’s first appearance in the “Great 8” since 1989, when it finished fifth at state. The Longhorns last made the state championship game in 1988. BHS has never won a state title in boys basketball.

Should Basalt pull the upset Thursday, it would play the winner of No. 12 Alamosa and No. 13 Faith Christian at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in Denver. The state championship game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday.

“Playing the number one team is always a good challenge because it tells you if you can beat them, you can beat anyone,” Basalt senior Michael Glen said. “We are just going to give it all we got and hope for the best.”

The rest of Thursday’s “Great 8” match-ups are No. 2 Manitou Springs vs. No. 10 Sterling, and No. 6 Denver Science and Technology: Stapleton vs. No. 3 Colorado Springs Christian.

For the full bracket, click here.

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