Former Aspen High standout coaching at Cal State Bakersfield
The Aspen Times
Aspen is going dancing.
Former Aspen High School basketball standout Jeff Conarroe is dancing at the Big Dance this year — the NCAA Tournament.
Conarroe is an assistant coach at California State University Bakersfield as the Roadrunners are making the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance.
“This is something for everyone who has a dream,” Conarroe said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon shortly after arriving in Oklahoma City, where No. 15 seed Cal State-Bakersfield will play No. 2 seed Oklahoma on Friday. “For a guy like me, coming from a ski town, I always wondered … dreamed what it would be like in the Big Dance.”
Now, he knows.
Conarroe, an all-state basketball player and a 1995 graduate of Aspen High School, was courtside in Las Vegas last weekend when Dedrick Basile of Cal State-Bakersfield hit a shot at the buzzer to beat New Mexico State 57-54 in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
As a fifth-year assistant coach under head coach Rod Barnes, Conarroe had coached and recruited all of the Roadrunners who earned the school’s historic first NCAA bid with the WAC Tournament title.
He shared in Bakersfield’s sacred net-cutting ceremony.
“One shot changed everything,” Conarroe said of the basket that sent the community of Bakersfield, California, into a basketball frenzy. “It’s crazy; it’s unbelievable.”
He said the energy on campus and in the city resonated this week as the team started preparations for their first journey into the NCAA Tournament.
More than 700 fans turned out for an open practice session Tuesday on campus.
As part of the coaching team that transitioned Cal State-Bakersfield from NCAA Div. II to Div. I, Conarroe said the players had an unquestioned commitment this season en route to a 24-8 record.
“They play for the love of the game,” said Connarroe, who went on to play basketball at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.” And this team plays with a chip on its shoulder. It’s like … our community in that way.”
The eclectic blend on the Bakersfield roster includes players from Houston and Queens, from Milwaukee and Egypt. And even Boulder.
“It’s a great mix of players. This group is so unselfish … really fun to coach,” said Conarroe, a former team captain at Colorado College. “And man, they are hungry.”
Immediately, Conarroe’s coaching heritage kicked in.
“Oklahoma has great guards,” Conarroe said. “We have to pressure them and make it difficult for them. We have to defend the 3-point line. Hopefully we can put a game together … do something that is special.”
Conarroe, the son of Dave and Judy Conarroe of Aspen, grew up in a sporting home with parents who were both college athletes.
Dave Conarroe was a longtime coach and athletic director at Aspen High School.
But Jeff Conarroe started his working career in the corporate world and not on the basketball court.
“I thought I was done with basketball,” he said. “But I really missed the opportunity to be around a team.”
When his company downsized, he opted for a voluntary layoff and a chance to be an assistant high school basketball coach.
“I left a really good job. People said I was crazy … because I wanted to coach,” said Conarroe who started working for the legendary Ken Niven at Monarch High School in Louisville.
From there, Conarroe attended Ole Miss where he earned his master’s degree in business management and started coaching with Barnes.
They coached together at Georgia State before the move to Bakersfield, where the challenge of moving up the basketball ladder to Div. I awaited.
“It took a lot of hard work, a lot of late nights,” Conarroe said. “But things like this (NCAA Tournament) make it worth it.”
He said the impact of Bakersfield’s buzzer-beating victory is off the charts.
“That shot played on ESPN for 48 hours,” Conarroe said. “I think the people of Bakersfield felt like they were relevant … to see ‘Bakersfield’ like that on TV.”
While the Roadrunners are headed for the NCAA Tournament and the spotlight of national television, Conarroe said that he and Barnes and the coaching staff are even more pleased with the graduation of 20 of their 22 recruits at Bakersfield.
The remaining two have one class to complete before they earn their college degrees.
Conarroe, married and the father of two boys, said he’s excited for the Bakersfield players to experience the Big Dance and fulfill their own childhood dreams.
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Buttermilk Ski Area already is scheduled to host the world’s best at ESPN’s X Games this coming week, while it was recently announced Aspen Highlands will host alpine skiing’s NorAm finals later this spring.