De­cem­ber re­de­fines road game

Prep teams leave state to play

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Neil H. Devlin

Why stay home when there is a trip to be taken?

Colorado’s high school bas­ket­ball teams have been an­swer­ing that ques­tion since the late 1990s, when hit­ting the road in De­cem­ber be­came the norm, par­tic­u­larly for teams in the Den­ver sub­urbs.

“My kids love it,” High­lands Ranch girls coach Caryn Jarocki said.

With the manda­tory hol­i­day break, games aren’t avail­able here, so teams leave the state to find them.

“I think it’s mainly due to the way (the Colorado High School Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion) has our win­ter sched­ul­ing,” said Danny Fisher, a for­mer Hink­ley star who is in his fourth year coach­ing the Over­land boys, the 2015 Class 5A state cham­pi­ons. “You see it a lot (teams play­ing out of state), then you get heavy league play after­ward.”

Fisher’s Trail­blaz­ers have been in de­mand na­tion­ally since De’Ron Davis, a bluechip re­cruit, walked through their doors for the first time three years ago. Led by Davis, a se­nior who has signed with In­di­ana, Over­land won the pres­ti­gious Tarka­nian Clas­sic in Las Ve­gas last month.

“It was a good thing for us,” Fisher said af­ter his team won four games in four days, in­clud­ing a 58-56 vic­tory over host Bishop Gor­man on a bas­ket by Davis in the fi­nal sec­onds.

Over­land also beat teams from Cal­i­for­nia, Florida and Utah.

Fisher added that with club and AAU bas­ket­ball more prom­i­nent in other states, Colorado’s team ap­proach seems to give play­ers from here an ad­van­tage. And the ex­pe­ri­ence can be ben­e­fi­cial long term.

“Even if you take a loss in one of th­ese tour­na­ments,” Jarocki said, “you tell your team that no one’s as good as the teams we’ve played, so let’s get back here and win some games.”

Den­ver East boys coach Rudy Carey, whose first job as a head coach was in 1979, has taken his teams to Florida, North Carolina, Wis­con­sin, Ne­vada, Cal­i­for­nia, Kansas and, last month, to Maui.

“A ma­jor part of it is kids get to bond in a to­tally dif­fer­ent venue away from home, away from par­ents, away from sup­port of the school,” Carey said. “It cov­ers you up in a lot of ways. It’s al­most as if it’s a rite of pas­sage.”

Some of his An­gels re­main shel­tered as city kids, so get­ting out to see some of the world, Carey said, is in­valu­able.

“Get­ting to go to Hawaii was great,” se­nior Deron Harrell said. “And we bonded.”

Added Carey: “There were a lot of ed­u­ca­tional com­po­nents. We saw a vol­cano, whales dur­ing mat­ing sea­son, tra­di­tional lu­aus and Maui cus­toms.”

Even if the desti­na­tion is just a cou­ple of states away, it’s still worth it, Thun­derRidge girls coach Matt Asik said.

“It’s a chance to get away,” he said. “Hope­fully, you come to­gether and fig­ure out who you are. And it’s good prepa­ra­tion for the play­offs.”

Thun­derRidge’s star se­nior for­ward, Tay­lor Rusk, who re­cently scored the 1,000th point of her ca­reer, agreed.

“It will def­i­nitely help us in the long run,” Rusk said.

In­creased ex­po­sure is a big plus too. More col­lege scouts and coaches are in the stands than fans.

High school teams in Colorado won’t be in league play for an­other week or so, and some teams have used non­league time to play in more than one out-of-state tour­na­ment. Regis Je­suit girls coach Carl Mat­tei in re­cent sea­sons has opted for one tour­na­ment be­fore the hol­i­days, then an­other after­ward, right be­fore his team goes into Con­ti­nen­tal League play.

Jarocki, a pi­o­neer of girls bas­ket­ball both as a player and a coach, squeezes in two outof-state trips in De­cem­ber.

As for fi­nanc­ing? Raise money. Lots of it. Jarocki said her team’s two trips in De­cem­ber cost be­tween $13,000 and $14,000. To go to Hawaii, Den­ver East had to raise about $35,000.

Teams try to raise funds any way they can. Carey said his team’s trip to Hawaii re­quired a year of fundrais­ing.

“It’s worth it,” Jarocki said. Neil H. Devlin: nde­vlin@den­ver­post.com or @neilde­vlin

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