Astate championship has been elusive since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic for Aurora boys, which last claimed a title in 2019.
It is not for a lack of talent, however, as programs all across the city had dynamic players that made it exciting to go to the gym every night.
The two teams that got closest to winning a state championship — Class 6A semifinalist Regis Jesuit and Great 8 qualifier Smoky Hill — each have selections to the 2022-23 Sentinel Colorado All-Aurora Boys Basketball Team, which is selected by the Sentinel in conjunction with balloting of city coaches.
D’Aundre Samuels of 6A state champion Denver East ultimately received Colorado’s Gatorade Player of the Year award, but the race was a close one based on the performance of Smoky Hill senior Rickey Mitchell, who finished second in the classification in scoring average at 23.5 points per game.
An extremely difficult matchup for any defense, Mitchell — a CHSAANow.com All-State first team and All-Centennial League first team selection — knocked down the second-most 3-pointers of an Aurora player with 59, was an accomplished mid-range shooter and used his explosiveness to get the rim often.
Mitchell (whose lowest point total in any game was 13) exploded for 40 points in an early-season game against Great 8 qualifier Valor Christian, which was the top scoring effort for an Aurora player on the season.
He also averaged 6 rebounds, 4.2 assists (as he often found open teammates in the face of double and triple teams) and 2.6 steals per game to finish in the top 10 in the league in all four categories.
Most importantly, Mitchell was the galvanizing force that helped transform coach Anthony Hardin’s young roster into a contender. The Buffaloes gave state champion Denver East its closest test and came up short after Mitchell fouled out in fourth quarter.
Smoky Hill has plenty to look forward to, especially given what freshman Kai McGrew provided in his first varsity season.
In an area that had plenty of talented big men — many of them young — McGrew stood out as he finished as the leading rebounder (8.5 per contest) and shot blocker (2.4 per game) in the well-respected Centennial League, which is no small accomplishment.
The All-Centennial League second team honoree was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Mitchell at 10.8 points per game, many of them coming on monster dunks or putbacks, while he could also hit jump shots when opponents gave him room.
In the playoffs, McGrew scored in double figures in three games and was just one behind Mitchell for team-high honors in the Great 8 with 16 points and also pulled down nine rebounds.
Fulcher rhymed with finisher this season for Regis Jesuit, which was short on returning experience, but won 20 games and made the program’s deepest postseason push since it won the third of three straight state championships in 2011.
Veteran coach Ken Shaw had the luxury of the return of his outstanding point guard, however, who seemed to play better as the moment got bigger. He had not one, but two game-winning plays in the postseason alone as his buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave the Raiders a win over Highlands Ranch in the Sweet 16 and his three-point play inside the final 10 seconds lifted them over Rock Canyon in the Great 8.
For the season, Fulcher — a CHSAANow.com 6A All-State first team pick and All-Continental League first team selection — averaged 16.8 points per game plus 3.6 assists. He scored in double figures in all but four games for Regis Jesuit and three of those times he had nine. Fulcher’s season high was 24 points, a mark he hit three times, including in the Raiders’ Final Four loss to Fossil Ridge.
Eaglecrest also challenged Denver East in the 6A Sweet 16 round before an up-and-down season came to an end. The Raptors had one of the area’s most dangerous offensive players in sophomore LaDavian King, who built on the momentum he established at the end of last season.
King, an All-Centennial League first team pick and CHSAANow.com 6A all-state second team member, averaged 17.8 points per game, aided by 48 made 3-pointers, which was second-most in the league behind only Mitchell. His season-high was 30 pointers, which he achieved twice — including once against semifinalist Mountain Vista — and he was just two points shy of that in the Sweet 16 loss to Denver East.
King and teammate Peyton Taylor (also a first team all-league performer) gave coach Jarris Krapcha’s Raptors one of the top backcourts around.
Grandview has a bright future ahead with the arrival of some exciting young talent, but coach Michael Rogers’ program will miss the contributions of UK Onyenwere, who had an outstanding senior season.
Onyenwere, younger brother of former Grandview girls star Michaela Onyenwere, added even more size to the Wolves’ abundantly tall lineup, but he added all-around skill as well. On a team that spread its offense out in virtually every single game, Onyenwere led the way with an average of 14.6 points per game and scored in a variety of ways.
A high-percentage shooter who was adept at getting to the free throw line, Onyenwere had three games of 26 or more points, including a season-high 28 against Cherokee Trail.
The All-Centennial League first team performer — who was a CHSAANow.com 6A all-state honorable mention pick — also averaged 7.2 rebounds plus 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game, all of which led the Wolves. Onyenwere finished with three double-doubles and was one rebound shy of another one.
All-Aurora second team: An impressive second unit is heavy on youth as it includes vastly improved sophomore Siraaj Ali of Overland as well as Grandview freshman Gallagher Placide. Overland lost Marzouq Abdur-Razaaq to a prep school program. which changed the team’s style of play and opened things up for the development of several players, including Ali, who finished with an average of 18.1 points per game. He knocked down 31 3-pointers to exhibit a threat from the outside, but did a lot of damage by taking the ball the basket and getting to the free throw line, where he earned a whopping 163 attempts and made 124 of them. Barger missed the postseason for Eaglecrest due to a wrist injury, but the Raptors were at their best with him on the floor as an inside threat to compliment their outstanding backcourt. The All-Centennial League second teamer tied Joshua Ray for the rebounding lead on his team at 8.4 per game and Barger ranked second in scoring at 12.3 points per game thanks the ability to score in a variety of ways.