New Rifle basketball coach Laimis Grybe to bring a European-style approach

Rich Allen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
New Rifle High School basketball coach Laimutis Grybe inside the gym at the school.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Laimis Grybe finds relaxation through the basketball court. From his young days in Lithuania to his new role as head coach of Rifle High School’s boys basketball team, it’s been the place Grybe has felt he can best be himself.

He almost takes on a new persona.

“Friends have said that to me. They’re like, ‘You’re a different person,'” Grybe said. “When I get on the court, whether I’m on the bench coaching or playing it, I forget about everything that’s going on. I’m just in the zone doing things basketball. It recharges me.”

After four years helming the junior varsity girls squad, the slender, 6-foot, 4-inch, shaved-head Baltic man makes the transition over to head coach of the boys program. This fall, he guided the boys soccer club to a 5-8 finish, a sharp improvement from the 0-10 record the team had in the spring season. Grybe said he never played on a soccer team, but “being from Europe, everyone loves soccer.”

He had enough rudimentary knowledge of the sport to lead the team’s talent and took a team-first, chemistry-based approach. They had team breakfasts and played airsoft soccer, in which they “try to score while shooting at each other.”

“He has a passion for coaching and wants to make sure every team is doing good,” Rifle High School soccer and basketball player Javier Salgado said. “He’s just really humble and looks out for everyone.”

Now, Grybe is taking the same approach to his happy place and to the sport he knows. He wants to prioritize that team-first mentality and spread the wealth.

Also a math teacher at the school, he used numbers to pitch his new triangle offense strategy to his players.

“I said, ‘There’s 10 of you on the varsity bench. If all 10 of you score three buckets, how many points is that?’ They sit there, think through it, and go, ‘Oh, 60,'” Grybe said.

New Rifle High School basketball coach Laimutis Grybe inside the gym at the school.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

If the Bears scored 60 in each of their games from the spring season, they would have gone undefeated. Their highest scoring game was a 56-50 win over Glenwood Springs on March 3.

It’s a style that he learned since he first picked up a ball at 6 years old. It helped him as an exchange student at Murphy High School in Murphy, North Carolina, as the team went to its first — and only, according to Grybe — trip to the state championships in the 1995-96 season. His playing career peaked as a semi-pro for his hometown in Lithuania.

In the United States, however, it’s a style that goes against the grain. American basketball is dominated by singular stars like LeBron James and Nikola Jokic, or super teams.

“I don’t like watching that kind of basketball,” Grybe said. “That’s going to be the biggest challenge this year, is to get them out of that mentality that every time they touch the ball they have to score by themselves without the others help.”

Grybe is also realistic about the ceiling for a lot of his players, saying that the players that can be good teammates and share the ball are going to be the ones that might move on to a junior college or Division III school. Because of that, he’s prioritizing character and being a member of a group along with other skills that will translate outside of sports.

Along with girls coach Eric Caro, the two teams and the school as a whole are trying to build a stronger sense of community. The girls and boys basketball teams scrimmaged on Wednesday evening.

“He did some pretty amazing things with those kids during the soccer season,” Rifle Athletic Director Chris Bomba said. “He believes in the processes we have in making these kids just good people above the basketball skill.”

Grybe took the helm just a week before Thanksgiving break, two weeks before a non-league game against Coal Ridge on Nov. 30. It’s a small window to implement a new system, but it’s one he hopes will endure for the long haul and make the Bears competitive for years to come.

Grybe’s youngest child is in sixth grade and he maintains that he and his family are “rooted here.”

“It takes extra time to change a culture,” Grybe said.

For the foreseeable future, Jack Smith Gymnasium will be Laimis Grybe’s charging station.