AURORA | While its win-loss record suffered a bit from its pre-winter break trip to the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, veteran Overland boys basketball coach Danny Fisher found it useful for his team.
The Trailblazers lost all four of their contests in the rugged Platinum Division, but every game was competitive — every defeat came by seven points or less — and they did it without the presence of dynamic 6-foot-9 senior center Graham Ike.
Ike suffered a serious right knee injury early in the second game of the season, Overland’s road win at ThunderRidge Dec. 5, and hasn’t played since. The Trailblazers had hoped to get their double-double machine back at some point, but Fisher confirmed Tuesday after a 62-60 loss to Chaparral that Ike will be lost for the season because of a partial tears of his Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL).
“More than anything, I think it got us used to the idea that Graham’s not going to be around and that was important,” Fisher said after his team dropped to 3-6 with a tough loss in its first game back from break.
“For awhile, the guys were in shock, so during those games in Vegas, they realized that ‘it’s up to us now,'” he added.
A large part of the reason Overland came into the season ranked No. 2 in CHSAANow.com’s preseason Class 5A boys basketball poll — behind only defending state champion Rangeview — was the presence of Ike, an A-Town All-Star who averaged 17.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in helping the Trailblazers to the Great 8 last season.
Ike looked ready to pick up where he left off and even added improved range to his shot — which he put on display with three 3-pointers when the Trailblazers gave Rangeview everything it could handle in a Foundation Game before the season began — and he recorded 21 points and 16 rebounds in a season-opening win over Regis Jesuit.
He had three points in the opening stages of Overland’s win at ThunderRidge before exiting.
Without Ike as the focal point, the Trailblazers have had to reinvent themselves on the fly.
Senior Trevon Deden has stepped up and is averaging 11.9 points per game, while senior point guard Hezekiah Swanson continues to round into form after his return from a knee injury of his own and is averaging 8.0 points per game, as is move-in Vincas Veikalas.
“Losing size doesn’t bother me, because I’m really confident in what we can do and we’re coming on with rebounding,” Fisher said. “Offensively is where it hurts us, especially in tight situations. We always had somebody we could dump it down to and whether he was doubled and made a bucket or not, it made the defense react.
“The game was a lot easier for everybody else.”
Fisher believes he still has a “tough, tough” group that is still capable of plenty of success, especially if it can put regular early-game struggles behind it.
Against Chaparral, the Trailblazers found themselves trailing by seven after one quarter and 12 at halftime before making a rally that came up just short when a late open 3-point shot by senior Kaleb Chaney and inside attempts by Veikalas and senior Joseph Editone didn’t go down in the final seconds.
Overland turns right around and tips off Centennial League play at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a visit to rolling Eaglecrest (8-1).
“I’m looking forward to starting Centennial League play,” Fisher said. “This is going to be a fun year to coach. It’s going to make me dig deep for everything that we do.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports