Jon Maletz: The Hammer |

Jon Maletz: The Hammer

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Would you blame Josh Morgan if he stuffed a potato into the tailpipe of Andrew Papenfus’ car? If he poked holes in the former Aspen hoops star’s drinking straws?

Not me.

I bet Morgan, a former Buena Vista guard, still sees that dunk every time he closes his eyes at night. I bet he’s still tormented by the image of Papenfus, bum knee and all, soaring over no fewer than three Demons players, snatching the inbounds pass and emphatically slamming the ball with both hands. The feat sparked a fourth-quarter run that helped Aspen dispatch Buena Vista and book a trip to the 2009 Great 8 in Fort Collins.

This was no one-time occurrence. Papenfus helped bounce the Demons again the following March, this time in the state semifinals. He drained back-to-back 3s in the final quarter, igniting a 10-4 run that secured the Skiers a spot in their first state championship game.

Soon after, Papenfus even edged out Morgan for MaxPreps state player of the year honors. If that’s not grounds for covering Papenfus’ toilet bowl in plastic wrap, I don’t know what is.

Instead, the duo has been suprisingly cordial. They struck up a friendship while competing on the all-star circuit during their senior seasons and have since stayed in touch.

Recently, Morgan was instrumental in helping Papenfus land a scholarship to play Division II basketball. Talk about taking the high road.

Morgan, who played his freshman year at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, has decided to head back home and attempt to walk on at Colorado State University. His departure – coupled with the graduation of a sizable senior class – has opened up a myriad of roster spots at Hilo.

Morgan asked Papenfus, who toiled as a manager/practice player at Santa Clara University this past season, if he might be interested in pursuing his big break on the Big Island.

“I’m a walk-on and won’t get too many minutes at all here, maybe not until my senior year. There, I could be on scholarship and get the chance to start and get a lot of minutes,” Papenfus said Thursday. “I’ve enjoyed it here – [Santa Clara is] a wonderful school – but it boiled down to playing time and being able to go to a program and have an immediate impact.”

Morgan apparently made quite the pitch; Vulcan basketball coach Jeff Law offered Papenfus a scholarship sight unseen.

Later, after watching the athletic guard assert himself during an open gym at Hilo, Law offered Papenfus a full ride.

Papenfus seldom has been one to pass up a shot.

“This is a dream,” Skiers head basketball coach Steve Ketchum said. “Every kid in the world dreams about going to the beach, playing the sport they love and having their college paid for. How can you not jump at that? I would’ve killed for this.”

For Papenfus, the decision was a little more convoluted.

At Santa Clara, he was enrolled in an acclaimed business school and was working to become just the second Skiers basketball player (Cory Parker) to make the leap directly from high school to D-I.

His skills were improving, sure, but not enough to get him on the court. He spent this winter on the bench, longing to slip out of his shirt and tie and into some high tops and baggy shorts.

“It helped me a lot. Sitting out, you notice a lot more than if you were actually playing. It was a neat experience,” Papenfus admitted. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot because of practicing with those guys … but it’s been super frustrating, too. I’ve never really gotten the chance to show what I can do, or get rewarded for my efforts.”

That won’t be a problem at Hilo, Ketchum said.

“Andrew’s got star potential out there,” the coach added. “I saw him play over the winter and he was a one-man wrecking crew. Wow, what a change. He’s 10 times better than he was his senior year [when he averaged more than 15 points and about four rebounds per game].”

He also could have his former high school running mate, next-door neighbor and best friend alongside him.

Matt Holmes, like Papenfus a former 3A Western Slope player of the year, did not catch on with the basketball team during his freshman year at D-III Trinity University in San Antonio and is looking to transfer.

Hilo is high on his list. Holmes already has a guaranteed walk-on spot, thanks to Papenfus.

“I kind of used my leverage since they wanted me pretty badly and said, ‘I’ll sign if you can guarantee Matt a walk-on spot – a jersey, the chance to be at practices and the chance to get in games,'” Papenfus said. “It’s a great opportunity, and he can play at that level. With his work ethic and his ability, I have no doubt he’ll get minutes.

“We’ve been friends since we were born. We talked about this in high school. ‘Hey, what if we went to the same place as a package deal?’ It didn’t happen at first, but ultimately we have that chance.”

Added Ketchum: “We may have Batman and Robin back together. Two superstar best friends playing ball on the beaches of Hawaii. It’s like a movie.”

Let’s make sure Morgan gets some popcorn.

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