Another fantastic boys basketball season and another state championship for Aurora. It’s become a trend lately.
While the 2016-17 season wasn’t quite as dominant as the previous one — when five of the final eight teams in the Class 5A playoffs were from the city and both teams in the title game were local — Aurora programs were in the thick of things all season and the 5A state championship trophy came back again with Eaglecrest hoisting it this time after Overland’s two-year run.
Aurora’s top talent appears on the 2016-17 Aurora Sentinel All-Aurora Boys Basketball Team, which is selected by the Sentinel in conjunction with input of city coaches.
The Raptors had championship expectations the entire way — fueled by the return of several players from last season’s team that finished as the 5A runner-up — and managed to fulfill them, as they harnessed the emotion of coach John Olander’s final season and the sheer will to win of a strong senior class headed by Colbey Ross and rode them until the end.
Ross captured his second straight Gatorade Colorado Player of the Year award with a masterful final season that was equal parts about picking his spots to assert himself and developing total trust in the rest of his teammates.
The repeat A-Town All-Star, Show Top 20 all-star game and first team All-Centennial League selection led Eaglecrest in nearly every offensive category. The Pepperdine University signee had a scoring average of 18.2 points per game to go with 5.1 assists and 2.5 steals, averages that led all Aurora players.
A 24-4 season ended with a thrilling 53-47 victory over George Washington at the Denver Coliseum in the 5A final.
To win the Centennial League title, the Raptors had to outlast Grandview, which took another step forward with the continued emergence of 6-foot-8 post player Gaige Prim.
The combination of Prim and speedy senior guard LeChaun Duhart made coach Michael Rogers’ Wolves difficult to contend with on a lot of levels as they finished 21-5 and made it to the Great 8 round of the 5A playoffs.
Prim developed the moves to score in the post against multiple defenders or get fouled and the All-Centennial League first team selection took advantage of both assets to finish with an average of 17.1 points per game, just a shade behind Duhart for the team lead and 2.3 more than his previous season.
Throw in an average of 10.6 rebounds per game — third-most in 5A — and Prim was the only Aurora player to average a double-double during the season. The two-time A-Town All-Star and Show Top 20 all-star game pick accomplished the feat 13 times on the season and added 1.8. blocked shots per game as well.
Prim and Duhart both will sign with Ranger College in Texas.
The makeup of the Cherokee Trail roster changed significantly after last season’s run to the 5A Great 8, but senior Jaizec Lottie returned as the straw that stirred the drink for coach Morgan Gregory’s Cougars, which finished 13-12 and had their season end in the second round of the playoffs.
Working with an almost entirely new cast — save a few holdovers — Lottie understood his need to score much more than ever before for Cherokee Trail to be successful.
The 6-foot-2 guard answered the bell in that regard, as he improved his scoring average by four points per game from the previous season to 20.3 points per game. That mark was second behind Rangeview senior Matthew Johnson (21.6 ppg) for top honors among Aurora players and came despite Lottie’s four-game absence near the middle of the season due to injury.
The as-yet-uncommitted Lottie — a two-time A-Town All-Star, Show Top 20 all-star and All-Centennial League first teamer — led his team in assists (4.0 apg) and steals (2.1 spg), while contributing nearly four rebounds per game as well.
The play of sophomore Kenny Foster was one of the key elements to Smoky Hill’s meteoric improvement from a four-win team last season to a 16-win outfit in the second year under coach Anthony Hardin.
The 6-foot-5 Foster scored 29 points in the second half of the Buffs’ Sweet 16 game, but it wasn’t enough to push them through against a veteran Denver East team. The repeat A-Town All-Star, Show Top 20 all-star game and first team All-Centennial League had an innate ability make all of his teammates better in a way that didn’t show up the stat sheet.
In terms of actual numbers, Foster poured in 17.1 points per game, pulled down 6.3 rebounds per game and dished out 4.1 assists per contest to rank among the leaders in players from Aurora in all those categories.
Johnson continued Rangeview’s long line of dominant performances in the EMAC, as he captured league player of the year honors to follow in the tradition of players such as Elijah Blake (a University of Denver signee) and Jeremiah Paige (who is coming into his own at Colorado State).
As a reserve last season on a Rangeview team that went undefeated until the 5A semifinals, Johnson injected instant offense when he came on the floor and averaged 5.8 points per game. In his senior season, coach Shawn Palmer (the EMAC Coach of the Year) needed Johnson to pick up some scoring slack left with a season-ending injury to Blake and he lived up to the challenge in a big way.
Coupling a deadly outside shot with the quickness to get to the rim repeatedly, Johnson’s scoring average rocketed to an Aurora-best 21.6 points per game — which included five games of 30-plus points — and ranked him seventh in the entire 5A classification.
The Raiders (16-9) played eight of the other 10 Aurora programs during the season and Johnson averaged 22 points against them, including 25 in a second round state playoff loss to eventual state champion Eaglecrest.
The recent University of Northern Colorado committment also averaged 3.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2016-17 AURORA SENTINEL ALL-AURORA BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM
Kenny Foster, Smoky Hill, soph.; Matthew Johnson, Rangeview, sr.; Jaizec Lottie, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Gaige Prim, Grandview, sr.; Colbey Ross, Eaglecrest, sr.
Will Becker, Smoky Hill, jr.; LeChaun Duhart, Grandview, sr.; Marquise Johnson, Vista PEAK, sr.; Ikenna Ozor, Eaglecrest, sr.; Daijon Smith, Overland, jr.
Michkaleke Baker, Gateway, jr.; Sam Bannec, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Deon Barfield, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Elijah Blake, Rangeview, sr. (injured); Ben Boone, Grandview, jr.; Dewayne Carter, Hinkley, jr.; Tre Early, Vista PEAK, sr.; Austin Forsberg, Eaglecrest, sr.; Victor Garnes, Eaglecrest, jr.; John Harge, Smoky Hill, jr.; Connor Hobbs, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Nick Holmes, Overland, sr.; Dylan Holt, Vista PEAK, sr.; Donyvan Jackson, Rangeview, sr.; Te’Rae Johnson, Vista PEAK, jr.; Ian Kelly, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Elijah Martinez, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Ryan Ongala, Rangeview, jr.; Jahwan Phillips, Smoky Hill, jr.; Dayne Prim, Grandview, soph.; Tucson Redding, Overland, jr.; Quinten Rock, Smoky Hill, fr.; Tyson Rodgers, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Jamil Safieddene, Regis Jesuit, soph.; Christian Speller, Rangeview, fr.; Larry Thomas, Aurora Central, sr.; Jayquawn Thompson, Hinkley, sr.; Michael Thompson, Aurora Central, soph.; Kevin Traylor Jr., Gateway, jr.; Goy Wang, Overland, jr.; Josh Walton, Eaglecrest, sr.