Keenon Clement admits he might just be watching basketball instead of coaching it this season if it wasn’t for the group that came together at Vista PEAK.
The veteran coach couldn’t even contemplate hanging up his whistle and clipboard, however, given the intriguing and unique squad that he gets to work with at the gym every day.
That group has given him plenty to be satisfied about — and even more to look forward to in the coming weeks — as the Bison are off to a 10-3 start (which matches Regis Jesuit and Smoky Hill for most wins among Aurora boys programs thus far) and earned the program’s first-ever win over rival Rangeview Jan. 13.
“It truly is a special group of human beings and truth be told, if it wasn’t for them, I would be done,” Clement said after Vista PEAK’s big win over 2021-22 state champion Lewis-Palmer prior to winter break.
“They are unreal,” he added. “They are so fun to be around, they handle coaching and they know my style. …You don’t walk away from something like this.”
Indeed, Vista PEAK has made some runs in past years, but this one seems different for a variety of reasons. The Bison (who are ranked No. 6 in the most recent CHSAANow.com Class 5A coaches poll) have experience, depth and size, a key ingredient that hasn’t existed in the past.
The arrival of junior transfer Carson McDonald — a 6-foot-8 frontcourt player formerly of George Washington — to add with 6-9 junior Kyree Polk and some other players that play bigger than their height such as junior Alante Monroe-Elazier is a major factor.
The Bison also have a four-year varsity player at point guard in senior Nasir Mills, who worked through things with the coaching staff last season and now has earned its complete trust.
“Nasir and I fought tooth and toenail last year about ‘here’s how I want you to play,’” Clement said. “We had all those disagreements last year and now we have a senior point guard who half the time I’m asking ‘what do you want?’ He’s a coach on the floor and a leader. We have two games this year where we just put the ball in his hands and said go make a play and he did.”
One of those games came against Rangeview in front of house that was so packed that spectators had to be turned away and the doors locked.
Mills had a chance to be a hero with the ball in his hands as the final seconds ticked down, but he drew the defense to him and passed the ball into the corner to junior teammate Julian Carrizales, who knocked down a 3-pointer that stood up in a 51-48 victory (recap, here).
It delivered the first-ever win for Vista PEAK in its history against Rangeview, which had won the first nine varsity meetings of the two Aurora Public Schools programs.
“Hearing the crowd roar when you’re running down the clock is a scary feeling, but we just had to make a play,” Mills said. “At first, I beat them off the dribble and I was going to take it, but then I saw No. 5 help and as soon as I passed it and saw JuJu jump, I knew it was perfect. That was probably the most exciting play of my career right now.
“It’s been four long, hard years losing to Rangeview and now we finally got one.”
Vista PEAK also has role players like Carrizales, whose only basket of the game was the game-winner against Rangeview. He came into the game on the recommendation of teammate Gabe Britton, who advocated that he would make the clutch shot.
“Coach always tells me take your moment and tonight was my moment, so I took it,” said Carrizales, who came off the bench to score eight points at a critical juncture of his team’s win over Lewis-Palmer prior to winter break.
Vista PEAK also defended well and has allowed just an average of 44.8 points per game in the early going. That has given the Bison a chance in every game they’ve played — two of their losses have been by a combined eight points, including a two-point defeat to 5A No. 5 Dakota Ridge in a game it led much of the way — and the offense continues to show signs of improvement.
McDonald’s inside-outside ability has him leading the way in scoring average at nearly 11 points per game — he tallied a game-high 16 points in the win over Rangeview — but six others average five or more and have shown they can hurt opponents depending on how the game flows.
Assuming health and continued gelling as the Bison play in the City League (formerly the Denver Prep League), Clement expects his team to be a factor come the postseason.
“We’ll pick a fight with anybody come February,” he said. “I’m not going to say we’ll be the baddest dudes on the block, but we’ll be in the conversation.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports