The University of Northern Colorado men's basketball team kicked off the New Year with a thrilling overtime victory over Idaho, and did so with two true freshmen in the starting lineup.
Just one year ago, Bodie Hume and Sam Masten were putting together dominant seasons on the Colorado prep basketball scene. Both helped their respective teams (Hume with Class 3A Sterling and Masten with 5A Rock Canyon) to No. 1 overall seeds in the playoffs, and while neither squad came away a title, the current Bears teammates came away with Player of the Year honors in their classifications (a third UNC player, Jalen Sanders, was the 4A POY two years ago for Valor Christian).
Masten averaged 22.5 points, nearly eight rebounds and more than three assists a game for a Rock Canyon squad that won 24 games and made the 5A state semifinals. Hume, one year removed from a 3A state title, led a 26-win Tigers squad in every major statistical category.
So, what makes an individual Player of the Year material? It's more than just putting up big numbers or winning a championship – of the five POY winners last year, only Longmont's Luke Johnson and Logan Sircy of Peetz were on title-winning teams. Masten was the only one of the group to finish in the top five in the classification in scoring average.
But of Masten, Johnson, Hume, Crowley County's Bradley Carnes-Claby and Sircy, each had a strong all-around game and the ability to provide their team with a big lift when the game was on the line. Each helped their team to at least a final four berth as well.
So, what of this year's crop of potential Player of the Year candidates? With January already nearly halfway to the finish line, a number of individuals have emerged as contenders.
With the postseason just a few short weeks away, here is a quick look at a handful of players who have made an impression through the first half of the season (only players with statistic reported through MaxPreps were considered): Class 5A
• Kenny Foster, Sr., Smoky Hill (Aurora) –
The Buffaloes are 11-2, and Foster – who has made an impact on the program since his freshman year – is dominating the competition. Foster was leading the state with 28.1 points a game going into last week, and the senior was also averaging more than 10 rebounds and nearly five assists a game. Foster's game has improved with each year, and after helping Smoky Hill to within a game of the state semis, there is no telling what the next two months hold.• Dayne Prim, Sr., Grandview (Aurora) –
Last March, Prim helped guide the Wolves to their first state championship. This winter, the 6-foot-5 multi-sport athlete has the Wolves on a roll coming out of the break. Grandview is coming off victories over top-10 teams in Overland and Smoky Hill, and Prim (15.6 ppg, 8.0 rebounds) had one of his best games in the victory over the Buffaloes. Prim went for 17 points and 14 rebounds as the Wolves' defense limited Smoky Hill to a season low in points.• Graham Ike, Jr., Overland (Aurora) –
The Trailblazers are proving to be 5A contenders once again, and the 6-9 Ike has plenty to do with that. Ike is averaging 16.1 points and 11.3 rebounds for Overland and is shooting 63 percent on the year. Ike had 16 points and 10 rebounds in a two-point loss to Grandview coming out of the break, and brought down a season-high 17 rebounds in a 42-41 victory over Cherokee Trail last Saturday.Other contenders: Ben Grusing
, Sr., Mountain Vista (Highlands Ranch)
; Chase Hettinger
, Sr., Castle View (Castle Rock)
; Quincey Jewett
, Sr., Rangeview (Aurora)
; Kobe Sanders
, Jr., Chaparral (Parker)
• Joel Scott, Sr., Lewis-Palmer (Monument) –
The Rangers have made it to consecutive 4A title games behind Scott, who is doing his usual work this season. Scott has helped Lewis-Palmer get off to a 12-0 start, averaging 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds and shooting 63 percent. He had 20 points and nine rebounds in a big victory over 5A standout Chaparral on Jan. 3.• Javonte Johnson, Jr., Cheyenne Mountain (Colorado Springs) –
The Indians are enjoying a resurgence behind their 6-6 junior, who leads 4A with 26 points a game and is averaging just less than 10 rebounds. Johnson opened the season with a 40-point, 16-rebound performance against Widefield. Cheyenne Mountain already has its most victories since the 2013-14 season.• Jackson Hayslip, Sr., Greeley Central –
Like Cheyenne Mountain, the Wildcats are on their way to enjoying their best season in five years. Hayslip (23.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.3 steals) has been the catalyst. Hayslip has
scored at least 21 points in nine of the team's 11 games, and has three games with at least five steals.
Other contenders: Tanner Baird
, Srs., Holy Family (Broomfield)
; Owen Koonce
, Jr., Centaurus (Lafayette)
; Brady Renck
, Sr., Longmont
; Mac Riniker
, Sr., Steamboat Springs
• James Doyle, Sr., Kent Denver (Englewood) –
Doyle and teammate Coby Gold have helped the Sun Devils get off to a 9-0 start. Doyle is averaging 24 points (second in 3A) and 6.3 rebounds, and had a big 41-point, 11-rebound effort earlier this season against Eaton. One night later in a victory over La Junta, Doyle had 16 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.• Jaedon Bowles, Sr., Manual (Denver) –
Bowles has been lighting up the scoreboard since his freshman year, and leads 3A in scoring this winter at 24.7 points a game. He's also averaging nearly nine rebounds and more than three assists, and is shooting 45 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line. After struggling in a loss to top-ranked Sterling in mid-December, he's bounced back with four strong performances, including a 26-point, 10-rebound game against Colorado Academy in which he also had seven assists and four steals. • Seth Fuqua, Sr., The Vanguard School (Colorado Springs) –
Like Bowles, Fuqua has been one of 3A's most prolific scorers over the past four years. Fuqua is averaging 23.2 points, five rebounds and 4.2 assists, and had a triple-double (15 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) last Saturday against Buena Vista. Fuqua is also shooting 92 percent from the free-throw line.Other contenders: Bryson Becker
, Sr., Platte Valley (Kersey)
; Kevin DiMarco
, Sr., Coal Ridge (New Castle)
; Coby Gold
, Sr., Kent Denver; Caleb Ruter
, Jr., Faith Christian (Arvada)
• Jakob Chrisman, Sr., Yuma –
The defending state champions are 9-0, and Chrisman's work in the paint has played a key role. The senior averages 16.9 points and 12.6 rebounds, with seven double-doubles to his credit. Early in December he had a monster game with 22 points and 25 rebounds, and Chrisman is coming off a season-high 25 points in a victory over Burlington.• Tate Bessire, Jr., Highland (Ault) –
The high-scoring Huskies (79.9 points a game) have Bessire running their offense. The junior leads four players in double figures with 17.6 points, and goes for 6.2 assists and five steals a game. Bessire recorded 10 steals in a victory over Union Colony Prep on Jan. 8.• Josiah Bowsher, Sr., Heritage Christian (Fort Collins) –
The Eagles are 8-2, and save for a quiet game in a loss to Longmont Christian, Bowsher has been tough to stop. The senior averages 18.7 points and 6.3
rebounds, and has scored at least 23 points in four of the team's previous five games.
Other contenders: Koby Anderson
, Sr., Highland; Brendon Younger
, Sr., Peyton
• Brennan Rigsby, So., De Beque –
The Dragons are one of two undefeated teams in 1A, and Rigsby continues to get better. The sophomore averages 20.9 points and 8.5 rebounds, and had four consecutive double-doubles earlier in the season. In a victory over North Park on Jan. 12, Rigsby had one of his best overall games with 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. • Brandt Vos, Sr., Cornerstone Christian (Westminster) –
Like De Beque, Cornerstone Christian is also off to a 10-0 start. Vos leads the Bulldogs with 17.3 points a game and 6.1 rebounds. Twice this season he has had six steals in a game. • Deric Woods, Sr., Front Range Baptist (Fort Collins) –
Woods averages an impressive double-double for the Falcons at 20.3 points (tied for fourth in 1A) and 14.7 rebounds. He's also averaging 3.8 blocks a game, and has two seven-block efforts this season. Other contenders: Chance Gulliford
, Jr., Cotopaxi
; Logan Owen
, So., Belleview Christian (Westminster)
; Wyatt Patton
, Jr., Briggsdale