Big shoes to fill for Aspen boys basketball
ASPEN ” Go ahead. Underestimate Aspen’s boys basketball team.
Sell the Skiers short.
Assume a state semifinal squad that lost nine seniors ” including the Denver Post’s 3A Mr. Basketball, Cory Parker ” is going to fall back to earth this season.
That’s exactly what coach Steve Ketchum and his players want.
“I think the expectations this year, even from the kids themselves and the community, are not as high,” admits Ketchum, who led Aspen to its best season in school history last winter with a 23-4 record. “You don’t lose the player of the year in Cory and a big dunker like Michael Taylor and nine seniors and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to go right back to the final four again.'”
With that being said, the Skiers aren’t exactly planning on conceding their league, district and regional championships from a year ago before the season starts Dec. 5.
3A Western Slope newcomer Grand Valley is loaded, returning its starting lineup from a team that reached the 2A semifinal round last year ” and nearly knocked off Aspen in its season opener. Gunnison and Coal Ridge also return deep, experienced lineups.
Aspen, meanwhile, has one returning starter in junior point guard Matt Holmes, three returning lettermen and a senior transfer in Walker Abrahamovich who started the past two seasons at rival Roaring Fork. There’s also another talented transfer from Florida, 6-foot-5 Zack Babich, who, per state transfer rules, won’t be able to join the team until January.
With that hand to play with, the defending league champs are not expected to repeat, Ketchum said. And that’s just the way they like it.
“I think people are going to underestimate us,” said the coach, now entering his 11th season at Aspen. “We’re hoping that’s the case, especially on the Front Range. Not only do we have some good quality kids back who are young and hungry with some experience, but we’ve got a couple of transfers and they’re going to make a difference, too. I think, realistically, we’re going to set the bar extremely high and try to get back to the state tournament.”
After two seasons of distributing the ball to twin towers Parker and Taylor, who have moved on to the ranks of Divisions I and III, respectively, Holmes expects to take on a bigger offensive role this season.
So, too, does junior shooting guard Andrew Papenfus, who goes 6-foot-4, and saw time off the bench last season during the Skiers’ semifinal run.
“He’s grown a lot,” Ketchum said. “He can dunk, and he’s got a great NBA-range 3. Just a really tremendous athlete. He’s really coming into his own this year.”
Abrahamovich was primarily a perimeter player at Roaring Fork, but because of the loss of Taylor inside, Ketchum plans to play the 6-foot-8, 220-pound senior closer to the rim.
Without a clear-cut, dominant scorer like Parker, the plan is for more balance on offense.
“We’ve got balanced guard play, balanced big play,” Holmes said. “I think we’re going to spread out scoring-wise. Cory and Michael got the majority of the shots last year and it was my job to get it to them. I’ve been working on my shot all summer long. I’ve been working with our assistant coaches trying to take on that role as a scorer.”
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of guys,” Papenfus added. “Cory shot 20 shots a game and those shots will be going to someone else. That’ll be awesome. We’ll have a new leading scorer.”
Two others who will benefit from all the holes left behind by the outgoing senior class are senior forward Trevor Watson and junior guard Devin Kahn, both reserves last season.
Past that, Ketchum admits that the rest of his bench is in need of varsity experience. He promised that the upcoming season would be exciting and, if anything, interesting because there are so many unknowns.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea of who can score and who’s got a clue,” he said. “We’ve got some kids back with varsity experience. … It’s not that we’re going change a lot of things, it’s just going to be different kids in different positions. Team chemistry is going to be huge for us this year, just trying to figure out the chemistry.”
Ketchum and the Skiers are looking forward to the challenge. It’s not going to be easy to stay on top, but Aspen’s not ready to give up its perch without a fight.
“It’s going to be hard to stay on top because of all the leadership lost, all the height lost,” Holmes said. “I think we have a good group of guys coming back, though, and we’ve got a transfer from Carbondale. Things are looking good in other places, but I still feel like we’ve got a chance.”
“I guess people don’t think we can do it without Cory, they don’t think we can do it without Mike,” Papenfus added. “I think we have to prove them wrong.”
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team looks a lot different from the last time it played, with many new players and a new coaching staff. But winning has become part of the culture, and it’s so far, so good for the Skiers this spring.