Most prep basketball coaches fret about winter break, worried the hiatus will take away their team’s edge.
It’s quite the opposite this year for Eaglecrest coach John Olander, who is looking forward to what can be accomplished in the 18 calendar days between his team’s games.
The first part of the season was a blur filled with positives for the defending Class 5A state champions, who packed eight games into the first 15 days of the season, culminating with a 55-54 loss to Denver East Dec. 16 in their last game until a Jan. 3, 2014, contest against Chaparral.
“We haven’t had much practice time, we really haven’t, so I’m looking forward to having the time to really clean up what we run offensively, set plays and continue to get better on some defensive rotations,” Olander said after the loss to the Angels, only their second in the first eight games.
“To have a chance to work with our guys and break down some stuff individually with the coaches is big,” he added. “I told our guys, ‘this can’t be our best game.’ We play a lot of good teams with good coaches in the Centennial League, so we have to get better from here.”
Fortunately for Olander, there was a lot to like about how his team played during its whirlwind opening stretch.
The Raptors had the residual bullseye on them as defending state champions, though some might have expected them to slip because of all the players that departed to graduation, especially star guard TreShawn Wilford.
But Eaglecrest was more than up to the challenge through its first eight games — which included six victories and only two losses, to Denver East and Fossil Ridge, teams with a combined 13-0 record through Dec. 18 — as it demonstrated the balance, depth and resiliency of a contender.
Nine Raptors averaged six points or more during the opening stretch, with senior Jaisean Jackson and junior Blend Avdili leading the way at 13.5 and 12.6 points per game, respectively.
“Everbody thought we weren’t going to do be as good without TreShawn and Rayjon (Craig), but I knew we were good,” said Avdili, who’s also averaging a team-best 7.9 rebounds per game.
“I believe in this team; we’ll be fine by the end of the year.”
There have been some understandable rough patches given the number of new faces joining the rotation — seniors Treyvon Williams and Marquel Murphy inside and freshman Colbey Ross and junior Peter Anderson in the backcourt — along with holdovers Jackson, Avdili, LaDerian King and Elijah Ross, but the potentinal has shown through.
Jackson, one of the heroes of last season’s title run, was encouraged by the Raptors’ play against Denver East — a nationally ranked team and state championship favorite — and believes that even better things are ahead.
“The chemistry is not like it needs to be, but it will get there,” said Jackson, who saw his buzzer-beating shot to win the game rim out. “This was only the eighth game of the season, we’ve got a lot more left.
“They’re a nationally-ranked team and they have their whole team back, while we’re working in a lot of new guys,” he added. “For us to work hard and come back like that, I like it. I applaud my team.”
Most of all, Eaglecrest hasn’t been intimidated by any team its played and doesn’t figure to be, even with the Centennial League ahead.
After the Denver East game, players were looking forward to the next time they could play the Angels, a sentiment that made Olander proud, but one he didn’t exactly share in the same way.
“I’m glad they feel that way, but as a coach, I don’t want to see them until the last game of the season and take our chances then,” Olander said.
“They’re going to continue to get better, but so should we. Our guys play with a chip on their shoulder and that’s what I love about them.”
The Centennial League looks to be every bit as challenging as usual, as Grandview and surprising Smoky Hill each won three of their first four games going into tournaments to close out the first half, while Overland has put up two
blowout wins against Colorado teams after returning from a 1-2 showing at the Great Western Shootout in Orem, Utah.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel