Smoky Hill’s se­cret is out: ar­ray of ca­pa­ble play­ers

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle New­man

Leg­endary boys bas­ket­ball coach Ken Shaw left Smoky Hill to take the Regis Je­suit job af­ter the 2006-07 sea­son. Since he left, Smoky Hill has mus­tered just two win­ning sea­sons.

And record-wise, the Buf­faloes posted an­other down year last win­ter with a 4-19 mark un­der first-year coach An­thony Hardin. But as Hardin ex­plained, the 2015-16 re­sults were a bit mis­lead­ing: Smoky Hill had a num­ber of key play­ers out be­cause of in­jury for much of the year.

Now, this sea­son, the Buf­faloes are break­ing out. With sopho­more guard Kenny Fos­ter steer­ing the ship and the tan­dem of 6foot-8 ju­nior for­wards Will Becker and John Harge, along with the play of up-and­com­ing fresh­man stand­out Quin­ten Rock, Class 5A No. 9-ranked Smoky Hill is off to a 6-2 start.

And, re­gard­less of last sea­son’s record, with the way Smoky Hill played over the sum­mer, through­out the fall and in the first third of the reg­u­lar sea­son this year, the Buf­faloes know their se­cret is out. This team is tal­ented, sea­soned and ca­pa­ble of bring­ing hoops glory to south­east Aurora once Cen­ten­nial League play fires up af­ter the hol­i­day break.

“Be­cause we do play so much bas­ket­ball in the sum­mer and fall, and now we’ve got tal­ented guys that peo­ple know about, there’s no se­crets with all that fa­mil­iar­ity in our league,” Hardin said. “We’ll know ev­ery play that Over­land and Grand­view run, and they’ll know ev­ery play we have. It’s a mat­ter of be­ing the tougher team and com­ing out and ex­e­cut­ing what you’ve been asked to do.”

The hot start cer­tainly has the Buf­faloes feel­ing con­fi­dent. It in­cludes wins over outof-state pow­ers Lone Peak (High­land, Utah) and Wake­field (Ar­ling­ton, Va.).

Smoky Hill pos­sesses the ma­tu­rity to re­al­ize it needs to keep im­prov­ing lead­ing up to the start of the 5A state tour­na­ment, which be­gins in late Fe­bru­ary.

“We’re play­ing to win the state ti­tle,” Hardin said. “We’ll have an op­por­tu­nity to win ev­ery bas­ket­ball game.”

The in­side pres­ence of Becker, who leads Class 5A with 12.3 re­bounds per game and 4.6 blocks per game, and Harge, who holds four Di­vi­sion I col­lege of­fers, is in­stru­men­tal. But as Hardin em­pha­sized, the lead­er­ship and of­fen­sive smarts of Fos­ter make up the linch­pin to the Buf­faloes’ suc­cess.

“The big­gest thing with Kenny is to con­tinue to trust his team­mates, make the right play ev­ery time down­court and un­der­stand that he doesn’t have to score to make the right play for his team,” Hardin said. “Last year, be­cause of the in­juries that hap­pened, we had to coach him into tak­ing and mak­ing bad shots. This year is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, be­cause there’s other tal­ent around him, and to his credit, he’s done a great job so far, and that has a lot to do with our suc­cess. It’s all about find­ing the right bal­ance be­tween be­ing ag­gres­sive and be­ing a leader.”

And for a pro­gram that knows just how eas­ily win­ning ways can slip away, as they did last sea­son when in­juries lim­ited Becker to just seven games and forced Harge to miss the en­tire sea­son, the Buf­faloes take great pride in hus­tle and heart.

“The big­gest take­away from last year is that bas­ket­ball is not promised to any­body,” Hardin said. “You can be av­er­ag­ing 25 points a game and be play­ing the best game of your life, then sprain your an­kle and be done for the rest of the year. So any­time you’re on the bas­ket­ball court, it’s a priv­i­lege, and it’s an op­por­tu­nity that de­serves your max­i­mum ef­fort.”

The Buf­faloes are next in ac­tion on the road Thurs­day night at 7 p.m. against Vista PEAK Prep (8-0).

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