Kelsey Williams got a second chance at life and another chance at basketball and he intends to make the most of both.
A couple of years removed from undergoing two surgeries to remove a blood clot in his right arm that made him miss nine months of school as a sophomore and represented the scariest time of his life, Williams is healthy and finally a member of the Aurora Central boys basketball team as a fifth-year senior.
That was something of an uncertainty, though, as he had to go through the lengthy process of applying for a medical hardship with the Colorado High School Activities Association. After months of waiting and filling out “tons” of paperwork, Williams received eligibility for a fifth year of high school.
“Sitting in the hospital, it was life or death and you didn’t know if you were going to make it,” Williams recalled recently. “Sports is my life and I never knew if I would be on the basketball court again, so it was really rough.
“I feel blessed to be here and although it was a rough time for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The 6-foot-3 Williams played his original senior year at Hinkley in 2014-15, when he led the Thunderbirds in scoring (15.8 ppg), rebounding (6.3 rpg), blocked shots 1.2 bpg) and steals (1.6 spg) on his way to making the All-EMAC second team.
Aurora Central coach Ian Calvert lost big man Daytone Jennings to a transfer to Denver East, but was pleased to discover that he’d be able to add an athletic player to a lineup that already featured dynamic senior guards Ladarius Thomas and Elijah Coleman.
“A guy who can score 18 points a game and was all-conference last year? Yeah, I’ll take it,” Calvert said wryly. “Kelsey is a high-impact guy and he fits in real well with our uptempo style.
“He’s also very mature and he has a really positive attitude. After he had his medical condition, he’s not taking things for granted.”
Calvert has been pleased with Williams’ work in the classroom as well as his integration with the team, even as he had to sit out the Trojans’ first nine games.
Aurora Central had just one home game in December and played road tournaments in Grand Junction and Fairview, which gave the team plenty of time away for Williams to get to know them and vice versa.
The Trojans also did plenty of winning while they were away, going 6-3 before winter break.
“There was a lot of team and bonding and I think we got a lot out of it as a team,” Williams said. “I’m really excited to get on the court with these guys. There’s a lot of positive energy here and that can take us a long ways.”
Williams finally did get on the court with the Trojans on Jan. 5 and contributed nine points in a 54-48 win at Smoky Hill. He followed that up with an 11-point performance on Jan. 7 as Aurora Central improved to 8-3 with a 59-51 win over Highlands Ranch.
Coleman — who is averaging a team-high 19.4 points per game — and Thomas (19.1 ppg) played against Williams last season when he was at Hinkley, but now look forward to what he’ll add to the mix on their side.
“Kelsey is a really good addition; he’s a good rebounder, very athletic and he can do everything,” Thomas said. “He’s a guy who just wants to play and he plays hard. When you have a guy like that, it will always help.”
Williams adds to the dynamic created by Thomas and Coleman, who have developed tremendous chemistry with each other and pose significant matchup problems with their length and athleticism. They are the second highest-scoring teammates in Class 5A at 38.5 points per game to the 38.9 of Lakewood’s Kolton Peterson (who has played just six games) and Jacob Storey (combined 38.9 ppg).
Coleman has the length to get his shot off against any defender and uses that same length to put the defensive clamps on anybody he guards, while Thomas feels his added strength and explosiveness will make him even more difficult to deal with on both ends.
The duo may reunite to play together next year at Division II Black Hills State (where Coleman has already signed and Thomas is considering among other options) which would allow the oncourt partnership to contine to grow.
“We just connect, there’s know thinking about, we just know right away where the other will be,” Coleman said. “It’s just pure reaction and instinct.”
Both Thomas and Coleman emphasize they are having as much fun as they ever had playing at Aurora Central, even though winning hasn’t been a problem.
The Trojans have won 17, 14 and 15 games the past three seasons, but Calvert notes a different feeling to this campaign.
Williams’ addition and the growth of players such as seniors Usman Koromah and Dominick Jackson and junior Larry Thomas gives Aurora Central more depth than its had in a long time, the team doesn’t have the eligibility challenges of the past and it has demonstrated the ability to fight back in games in hostile environments that bodes well.
“All the comebacks have shown me that there’s a lot of fight in this team,” Calvert said. “We want to just maximize what we can be and have a really special season.”
What would make it a special season for the Trojans is challenging rival Rangeview for the EMAC championship and snapping a streak of first round losses in the Class 5A state playoffs that stretches back to the 2009-10 season.
Added Williams: “When everybody finds their roles, there’s no limit to what we can do. Don’t sleep on us.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel