Coach: Ian Calvert, 6th season
2011-12 record: 20-4 overall (Lost in 2nd round of Class 5A state playoffs)
Players to watch: Carlton Hurst, 6-foot-2, G, sr.; Leonard Hurst, 6-2, G/F, sr.; Tyler Stephenson, 6-4, F, sr.; LaDarius Thomas, 6-0, G, fr.
Outlook: Coach Ian Calvert has an intriguing mix of experience and youth this season at Aurora Central, which was rated No. 3 in Class 5A in a preseason coaches poll conducted the Denver Post. The biggest reason for the Trojans’ lofty position is the presence of one of the state’s top players in senior Carlton Hurst, a 6-foot-2 guard who signed a scholarship offer with Colorado State University prior to the season. The explosive Hurst racked up the accolades last season, as the was the Aurora Sentinel’s Player of the Year, the East Metro Athletic Conference Player of the Year and one of the 20 players from across the state selected to The Show all-star game at the Pepsi Center as he averaged an Aurora-best 23.0 points per game in addition to averages of 10 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 4.0 steals per contest. Hurst would often pick his spots to take over games last season, but Calvert wants him to keep his foot on the gas more often this season. Fellow seniors Leonard Hurst and Tyler Stephenson — both second team All-EMAC last season — have improved and both can score in bunches, which should make Aurora Central a difficult group to defend for opponents. Incoming freshman guard LaDarius Thomas can do just about anything Calvert asks of him and gives the Trojans another threat. Aurora Central will also look for minutes in key situations from seniors Kavion Mason and A’Deril Agnew, as well as junior Marcus Tripplett. Calvert was named conference coach of the year last season after leading Aurora Central to the EMAC championship with 12-0 mark.
Coach: Morgan Gregory, 2nd season
2011-12 record: 13-12 overall (Lost in 2nd round of Class 5A state tournament)
Players to watch: Drick Bernstine, 6-6, F, sr.; Solomon Yon, 6-0, G, sr.; Jay Nelson, 6-2, G/F, sr.; David Thornton, 6-3, fr.; Ronnie Barfield, 6-1, fr.
Outlook: Cherokee Trail comes into the 2012-13 season with its most buzz in years, as coach Morgan Gregory’s team was voted No. 5 in Class 5A in the preseason by Colorado coaches. Gregory feels better equipped to lead the team this year and points to be a very positive vibe surrounding his talent group, which is led by senior forward Drick Bernstine, who has signed with the University of Denver. Standing 6-foot-6 and possessing the ability to handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter, Bernstine is poised to vastly improve on last season, when he averaged 11.3 points and was chosen to the All-Centennial League second team. Senior wing Jay Nelson led the team in scoring average last season at 13.2 points per game after transferring over from Montbello and is back in the fold, as is another capable scorer and ballhander in senior guard Solomon Yon. The experienced talent is boosted by the arrive of some youngsters, as Gregory expects freshmen David Thornton and Ronnie Barfield to make an immediate impact. The Cougars finished fifth in the Centennial League standings and Gregory hopes to move up this season and challenge for the title in arguably the toughest league in the state.
Coach: John Olander, 12th season
2011-12 record: 16-9 overall (Lost in the 2nd round of Class 5A state playoffs)
Players to watch: Tre Wilford, 6-foot-2, G, sr.; Sean Watkins, G, sr.; Maurice Perez, 5-10, G, sr.; Rayjon Craig, 6-3, F/G, sr.; Blend Avdili, 6-5, F/C, soph.; LaDerian King, 6-0, G, jr.; Jaisean Jackson, 6-0, G, jr.
Outlook: Eaglecrest coach John Olander knew he had a lot of talent returning from last season, but it turned out to be even more than he expected as a number of players came back much improved from work in the offseason. The challenge for Olander will be distributing the minutes properly among a lot of players, but the depth should serve the Raptors well in the rugged Centennial League. The backcourt is a definitely strength for Eaglecrest, as seniors Tre Wilford, Sean Watkins and Maurice Perez can handle the ball, shoot it and be extremely disruptive on the defensive end. Wilford, who was a second team All-City performer last season and made the All-Centennial League first team, signed a scholarship offer the University of Colorado Colorado Springs prior to the season and is looking to follow a season that saw him average team bests in scoring average (13.8 ppg), rebounding (6.4 rpg), steals (2.3 spg) and assists (1.7 apg). Watkins and Perez each averaged a shade under seven points per contest last season and both have shown confidence and aggressiveness that will be valuable for Raptors this season. Olander saw a huge improvement from senior Rayjon Craig, who should see a huge jump in his minutes, while sophomore Blend Avdili has also earned his way into the varsity mix after taking a huge step forward. Junior guards LaDerian King and Jaisean Jackson add toughness and tenacious defense, while both can score as well. The rest of Olander’s roster includes a mix of shooters and versatile inside players who could all come make important contributions over the course of the season. Eaglecrest finished behind fourth in the Centennial League standings last season.
Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555