For a program that won only four games two years ago, what the Smoky Hill (Aurora)
boys basketball team accomplished in 2016-17 deserves a heap of credit.
The Buffaloes made a tremendous leap forward last winter. Smoky Hill quadrupled its victory total and put together its most successful campaign in 10 years, riding a youth movement that had begun the year before.
But the team is hoping it's only the beginning. The Buffaloes have a strong senior class for the first time in Anthony Hardin's three years as Smoky Hill's head coach, with depth, experience and plenty of talent working in the squad's favor.
"There's no replacement for what can and can't happen on game night. You can do every drill and practice every scenario, but there's something magical about having been there and done it before," said Hardin, whose team opened the year ranked second in the CHSAANow.com Class 5A preseason poll. "We're really utilizing our practice time because we don't have to re-teach anything. We're just trying to get better
every day and keep moving forward."
Smoky Hill finished last season with a 16-9 mark and advanced to the 5A Sweet 16 before falling by six points to Denver East
. Kenny Foster
finished his sophomore year leading the team with 17.7 points a game, and Will Becker
averaged nearly nine points to go along with 11.6 rebounds and 4.6 blocks.
The Buffaloes endured a five-game losing streak late in the season, but those five losses came by only a combined 27 points. Smoky Hill finished out the regular season with four consecutive victories, including a 52-48 victory at eventual champion Eaglecrest (Centennial)
"We just reassured ourselves," Hardin said of the victory over the Raptors. "Being the last team to beat the state champion just shows you that you're a missed rebound, a missed free throw from being a state-caliber team."
Foster, Becker and Mue Muwwakkil
saw a lot of time during Smoky Hill's 4-19 season in 2015-16. As a freshman, Foster averaged 18.9 points and 6.2 rebounds.
"The knock on him coming in was that he was a very talented athlete who can't shoot. Now we're hearing from college coaches that know him as a shooter but didn't know he was athletic," Hardin said. "He's adding new thing to his repertoire every season. This year he really made some gains in the weight room and those will change
the way he plays on the hardwood."
Becker led 5A in rebounds and blocks as a junior, and Hardin said the 6-foot-9 post is doing a better job of scoring this year and is a bigger threat from the perimeter as well. John Harge
and Muwwakkil played key roles as juniors, as did freshman Quinten Rock
, who was fourth on the team in scoring.
That depth will help ease the loss of Jahwan Phillips, the team's second-leading scorer, who moved to Texas.
The 5A classification is deep and balanced this winter, with any number of teams capable of coming away with the state championship.
Smoky Hill has to contend with the likes of Eaglecrest and Overland (Aurora)
– which have claimed the past three state titles – in the Centennial League, along with traditional powers in Cherry Creek (Greenwood Village)
, Cherokee Trail (Aurora)
and Grandview (Aurora)
The Buffaloes are 1-1, having had to forfeit a victory in the season opener for using an ineligible player. The team is in Orem, Utah, this weekend for the Great Western Shootout.
"We're just working very hard to give ourselves the opportunity to win. We feel like we're as talented as anybody and can beat anybody," Hardin said. "But we also feel like if we're not focused and not doing the small things and not paying attention to detail, we could lose to anybody on any given night.
"We're just focused on the small things, taking it one game at a time and trying to be the best version of us possible."
MaxPreps Colorado regular-season tournament brackets
Here is a quick look at the rest of the state as the first month of the season kicks into gear:Class 5A
The preseason top 10 featured four ranked teams in the Centennial League (Smoky Hill, Overland, Eaglecrest and Grandview); four from the Continental League (Rock Canyon (Highlands Ranch)
, ThunderRidge (Highlands Ranch)
, Regis Jesuit (Aurora)
and Chaparral (Parker)
); and two from the Denver Prep (George Washington
and Denver East). … The Continental League race will be fun to watch. Top-ranked Rock Canyon and No. 5 ThunderRidge are both off to fast starts. Jaguars all-state senior Sam Masten
is averaging 21 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists through four victories, while Grizzlies all-state senior Kaison Hammonds
is at 20.5 points as ThunderRidge opened with five consecutive victories. … Daylen Kountz
averaged 26 points a game for Denver East as a junior after transferring from George Washington. The Angels are also off to a blistering 5-0 start, with Kountz averaging 21 points and five assists through four games, and Kwane Marble
at 15.5 points to go along with five assists. … George Washington returns its second-leading scorer off its state runner-up team in Jon'il Fugett
, and sophomore Devin Carter
is off to a strong start. … With reigning Player of the Year Colbey Ross having graduated, defending champion Eaglecrest is turning to a deep senior class to get the Raptors going. … Rangeview has also looked impressive early, winning its first four games behind three players averaging at least 10 points a game.Returning all-state players:
Kaison Hammonds, Sr., ThunderRidge (1st team); Daylen Kountz, Sr., Denver East (2nd team); Sam Masten, Sr., Rock Canyon (1st team).Class 4A
Defending champion: Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch)Overview: Lewis-Palmer (Monument)
graduated six seniors from its state runner-up squad, but the Rangers opened with four wins in a row, including an impressive victory over preseason No. 1 Golden
. Juniors Matthew Ragsdale
(16.3 points) and Joel Scott
(15.3 points, seven rebounds) are leading the way. … Golden's early schedule is loaded, with four ranked teams in the first five games. All-state senior Adam Thistlewood
has been a force early for the Demons. … Defending champion Valor Christian graduated the bulk of its scoring punch, leaving coach Troy Pachner to reload with a younger group. … Pueblo South
won 20 games and reached the semifinals, but figures to need a bit of time to catch up to speed after the Colts won the state football title last weekend. Jeremy Cody
and Marcell Barbee
each averaged 12 points a game as juniors. … Pueblo West
moves forward without all-state guard David Simental, but Pierre Taylor
and Nieyeme Smeyer-Williams
both scored in bunches as juniors. … Holy Family (Broomfield)
won three in a row after its loss to Golden. Junior Kyle Helbig
has averaged 17 points thus far. … Senior Trent Dykema
scored 35 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a Silver Creek (Longmont)
season-opening victory over Evergreen.Returning all-state players:
Adam Thistlewood, Sr., Golden (1st team).
Defending champion: SterlingOverview:
Sterling denied Colorado Springs Christian
a third-consecutive 3A state title in the semifinals last
March, then took down another storied program in Faith Christian (Arvada)
with a one-point victory in the title game. The Tigers return 6-8 all-state standout Bodie Hume
, who averaged 15.7 points as a junior, and the team is off to a 4-0 start. … Faith Christian upset top-seeded Kent Denver (Englewood)
on its way to the title game. The Eagles bring back Benjamin Hawkins
, an all-state talent who averaged 20.7 points a game as a junior. … Colorado Springs Christian graduated POY Justin Engesser, but Noah Hopkins averaged 12.7 points as a junior. … Grand Valley (Parachute)
opened the season with victories over CSCS and Jefferson Academy. Kade Hurst
averaged 18 points in the two games. … Kent Denver opened with three victories in a row. The Sun Devils have their two leading scorers back in Coby Gold
and James Doyle
. … Platte Valley (Kersey)
was just 11-12 a year ago, but the Broncos are off to a 4-0 start that includes a victory over Faith Christian. Junior Bryson Becker
is averaging 19.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and four blocks during that stretch. Returning all-state players:
Benjamin Hawkins, Sr., Faith Christian (1st team); Bodie Hume, Sr., Sterling (1st team).Class 2A
Defending champion: HolyokeOverview:
Of the 28 players in 2A to garner all-state accolades last winter, only three of them were juniors. Del Norte's Carlos Parra
was on the second team, having averaged just shy of 20 points a game. The team's only setback thus far came in an overtime loss to 3A Centauri (La Jara). … Crowley County (Ordway)
, which won 18 games a year ago, has opened with three consecutive victories. Junior Lane Walter
is averaging 13.7 points and 6.3 rebounds, and senior Bradley Carnes-Clabey
is at 12 points and 10.3 rebounds. … Defending champion Holyoke graduated three all-state players, and returns just three seniors to go along with a handful of sophomores and a freshman.Returning all-state players:
Carlos Parra, Sr., Del Norte.Class 1A
Defending champion: HollyOverview:
Holly ran the table last winter on its way to its second title in three seasons. The Wildcats graduated four of their five leading scorers, with only junior Kobe Davis
(12.9 points) back. … Fleming
lost the bulk of its scoring with Jaxon King, but the Wildcats do have seniors Matthew Tanner
and Paul Asfeld
to help shoulder the load. … Having two of its three leading scorers back in Deric Woods
and Adam Poole
bolsters Front Range Baptist (Fort Collins)
, which was the No. 3 seed in the postseason last March. … Isaac Borchers
, a second-team all-state pick last winter, averaged 15.4 points and 8.8 rebounds for Creede
as a junior. The Miners are 3-0 this season, with Borchers averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds. … Heritage Christian (Fort Collins)
went 3-0 in the Falcon Invitational, with Josiah Bowsher
(15.7 ppg) and Isaiah Bowsher
(15.0 ppg) leading the way.Returning all-state players:
Isaac Borchers, Sr., Creede.