Coach: Ian Calvert, 7th season
2012-13 record: 17-7 overall (lost in first round off Class 5A state tournament)
Players to watch: Ladarius Thomas, 6-foot-1, G, soph.; Elijah Coleman, 6-2, F, soph.; Ca’Jee Curlee, 5-8, G, jr.; Levi Watson, 6-4, F, sr.; Thaleel Khabir, 6-2, G, jr.
2013-14 Outlook: The post-Carlton Hurst era begins at Aurora Central this season, as coach Ian Calvert graduated his star player from the past few seasons who is now a regular at the Division I level with Colorado State. When one standout player moves on, the Trojans have had another one rise in recent years and this season’s riser figures to be sophomore G Ladarius Thomas, who started and played in all 24 games a year ago. Four Aurora Central players averaged in doubles figures last season — including the graduated Hurst (24.3 ppg), Leonard Hurst (13.3 ppg) and Tyler Stephenson (13.0 ppg) — with only Thomas and his 10.3 points per game average returning. While he did an admirable job running the Trojans and averaged 4.5 assists per contest, Thomas is the team’s most capable scorer and should get more chances to work without the ball in his hands thanks to the arrival of junior PG Ca’Jee Curlee, a move-in from Mississippi who knows how to get to the basket and find the open man. Sophomore F Elijah Coleman saw action in 18 games for Gateway last season and the 6-2 wing player has shown Calvert that he could be a strong contributor offensively, while junior G Thaleel Khabir has the physical size and raw talent to be a threat if he is focused. Senior F/P Levi Watson must play well for Aurora Central, which isn’t terribly deep with post players. The Trojans have a brutal non-league schedule, but hope to continue their success in the East Metro Athletic Conference, where they are 20-1 over the past two season, with the only loss coming to Brighton last season. Senior G Marcus Tripplett is injured at the start of the season, but would add some varsity experience when he returns.
Coach: Morgan Gregory, 3rd season
2012-13 record: 18-8 overall (lost in Great 8 round of Class 5A state tournament)
Players to watch: Tyler Larkin, 5-foot-11, G, sr.; David Thornton, 6-3, F, soph.; Ronnie Barfield, 6-2, F, soph.; Izaiah Lottie, 6-0, G, jr.; Kam Brandon, 5-11, G, jr.
2013-14 Outlook: Coach Morgan Gregory saw significant gains from his Cherokee Trail team last season, as the Cougars won 18 games, claimed the first Centennial League championship in program history and advanced all the way to 5A’s Great 8 before losing a double-overtime thriller to Mountain Vista. Eight seniors from that breakout team graduated, however — including statistical and emotional leader F Drick Bernstine, who is now starting at the University of Denver, plus two other All-Centennial League performers — but a newfound expectation of success remains in place with the program’s returning players. With the massive graduation, plus senior F Evan White’s decision not to play basketball this season and the injury time junior G Izaiah Lottie will lose due to a broken thumb suffered playing football, the Cougars must count plenty on a pair of sophomore frontcourt players in F David Thornton and F Ronnie Barfield. With the top five scorers from last season’s team graduating — representing more than 80 percent of Cherokee Trail’s total offense — the pair will have to great improve on the five points per game they each scored last season. The 6-foot-3 Thornton and 6-2 Barfield averaged very similar numbers across the board, but Gregory sees the willingness each has to improve and take larger roles and anticipates very high ceilings for his youngsters. The team won’t be without veteran presence, however, as senior G Tyler Larkin should handle the ball a lot for the Cougars and finished third on the team in assists and steals per game last season. Junior G Kam Brandon also will be counted on to handle the ball, while Lottie should add a defensive presence and a slashing offensive game when he joins the lineup in the second half. A grueling schedule awaits Cherokee Trail before it gets a chance to defend its league title. Gregory hopes to play more games that end in regulation as the Cougars played at least one overtime period seven times last season and won just two of those games.
Coach: John Olander, 13th season
2012-13 record: 23-5 overall (won Class 5A state championship)
Players to watch: Jaisean Jackson, 6-foot, G, sr.; LaDerian King, 6-0, G, sr.; Blend Avdili, 6-5, F/C, jr.; Elijah Ross, 5-10, G, jr.; Treyvon Williams, 6-3, F, sr.; Marquel Murphy, 6-4, F, sr.; Colbey Ross, 5-9, G, fr.
2013-14 Outlook: Capping one of the most memorable postseason performances seen around Aurora in awhile, coach John Olander’s Eaglecrest team — unranked at the beginning of the season — captured the Class 5A state championship by using a heavy dose of defensive, team-oriented play to rout heavily-favored Denver East in the state championship game in Boulder. Several members of the championship team graduated, including the straw that stirred it all in G TreShawn Wilford, but there’s no taking away the residual effect that winning a title had on the program. Everything seems to have taken a step up in terms of intensity for the Raptors, who expect to get tested plenty this season. There’s a strong returning core in senior G Jaisean Jackson and senior G LaDerian King, plus junior F/C Blend Avdili, who each took turns stepping up in key moments during the title run and should see even bigger roles this season. The 6-5 Avdili — also a strong goaltender for the school’s soccer team— earned second team All-Centennial League honors last season when he averaged 9.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest, while Jackson received an all-league honorable mention nod. The 6-footer finished third on the team with an average of 9.7 points per game — behind Wilford’s 13.4 and graduated Rayjon Craig’s 10.7 ppg — and a team-best 2.3 assists per contest. King did a little bit of everything for the The improvement of junior G Elijah Ross could make a big difference for Eaglecrest, as he appears ready to become a major contributor after seeing spot minutes last season. His freshman brother, G Colbey Ross, could also be a regular in the rotation to further bolster the backcourt, while senior F Treyvon Williams and senior F Marquel Murphy will try to provide the toughness and tenacious play in the paint that Eaglecrest got last season from some of the players who graduated.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel