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