December redefines road game
Prep teams leave state to play
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or @neildevlin