In local summer basketball, June is typically reserved for high schoolers to take a break from playing for their respective clubs and come together with their high school teams. Preps editor Kyle Newman breaks down five takeaways from this month’s high school boys basketball action:
Overland’s capable of another crown
Coach Danny Fisher’s Blazers, winners of back-to-back Class 5A titles in 2014 and 2015, are reloaded once again following last winter’s learning curve.
Overland captured titles at the C3 Challenge (at multiple sites in the south metro area) last weekend and the Metro State Tournament the weekend before that, proving that senior point guard Tucson Redding, senior shooting guard Daijon Smith, junior shooting guard Stephen Hayes and the rest of the Blazers are ready to make another deep postseason push.
“We’re starting to get really good continuity and cohesiveness together as a group,” Fisher said. “They’re used to playing with each other because we’re basically returning everyone, so we know we’re going to have a leg up there.”
Denver East’s a serious title challenger, too
After falling in the Great 8 to eventual state champion Eaglecrest last year, coach Rudy Carey has the Angels in position to capture the program’s 12th state championship, which would give the Angels the most boys hoops titles of any Colorado school.
Denver East returns nine players with varsity experience and is led by one of the state’s top scorers in senior point guard Daylen Kountz as well as other key components such as junior guard Kwane Marble and junior forward Assane Diouf. The Angels do not play in any summer tournaments, instead electing to compete in its own East Summer League against Legacy, Far Northeast, Fairview, Hinkley and more.
“Our kids are always spread out too thin to play summer tournaments, and it’s not a true representation of our team,” Carey said. “But I know, with everyone we have back, we’re going to be the rabbit this year. Everyone will be chasing the rabbit.”
Other usual suspects looking strong
This month also proved that despite the departure of talent crucial to last season’s success, Regis Jesuit (three-time state champion) and ThunderRidge (two-time state champion) will be back in the title conversation this winter.
Coach Joe Ortiz’s Grizzlies leaned on senior point guard Kaison Hammonds and ever-improving junior Kevin Sax down in the post while impressing opposing coaches this June. And for Regis Jesuit, despite the graduation of point guard Connor Hobbs and the transfer of standout forward Samba Kane out of state, coach Ken Shaw expects his team to find its identity by wintertime.
“Guys like Elijah Martinez, Matt Wheelock and Sam Bannec will be big this year, but more importantly, the summer’s been great for developing a lot of our role players too and seeing who else is going to round out the starting lineup,” Shaw said.
Rising programs keep on rising
If this summer has been any indication, expect programs who made big waves last year to continue their ascent into the 2017 season.
Rock Canyon, which made the 5A semifinals last season and won the UNC team camp this month in Greeley, boasts the senior point guard duo of Sam Masten and Tyson Gilbert. Smoky Hill, which returns every starter from last season’s Sweet 16 run, is highlighted by the 6-foot-11 senior tandem of Will Becker and John Harge. And Chaparral, another 2016 Sweet 16 contender, has also made its presence felt this summer thanks to the play of sophomore point guard Kobe Sanders and junior forward Ronnie DeGray III.
The success of all three aforementioned programs doesn’t hinge upon star power, though; it’s all about depth and toughness in the parity-laden 5A landscape.
“We’ve been a senior-led group the last couple years, which has been a great thing for us,” Rock Canyon coach Kent Grams said. “But our bench, as most coaches would probably say, needs to get tougher. We need to make sure we’re doing a better job on the defensive side and understand that if we don’t put an emphasis on rebounding, we’re going to lose a lot of games.”
Teams outside metro area also potent
Palmer was the last team outside the Denver metro area to win the Class 5A state title, in 2000, but June has proven a number of teams from up north and down south are ready to make a run.
Front Range League contenders Legacy and Fairview drew praise from a number of metro coaches who came across their path, while defending Colorado Springs Metro League champion Doherty — under the direction of new coach Eric Steinert — will also challenge behind the play of senior guard Kyrele Benford and senior forward Joseph Golden.
“I didn’t know they were as solid as they were with their length and athleticism, and they’ve got a couple good guards too,” Fisher said of Doherty. “So I expect them to have a strong season this winter, and there’s always another team or two from outside the area who can make a run like Fort Collins did last season.”