After equaling its best football playoff run ever, Basalt High School has moved on to the winter sports headlined by basketball.
One Longhorn squad is headed by a brand-new coach, the other a second-year returnee who saw an uptick in team results last year, and now looks for more.
First-year athletic director Jason Santo almost stumbled across coach Clinton Hunter, who had arrived just before Santo, to teach special education and phys. ed. The job opened up when C.P. Martinez, who’d coached the Basalt boys for two seasons, stepped down to take a teaching position at Coal Ridge, moving with his wife and their new baby. Martinez’s team finished last season with three wins, 17 losses.
Hunter knew he was going to be at BHS this fall, so he applied at the start of the summer, and was available without Santo having to search much more extensively. A bonus factor was that the two men “got” each other’s mentality right away, Hunter having coached at Naperville North High in the metro Chicago area for 11 years, Santo coming to Basalt from nearby Geneva, Ill.,about a 25-minute drive away.
Hunter calls North, which has a student body of about 3,000, a “high-achieving” public school in both academics and athletics, one that also has what the coach calls a “championship culture” across all its sports. Geneva’s atmosphere was similar, so the two hit it off right away; Hunter fitting right in with the new direction Santo seeks for Basalt.
So just what does that kind of culture mean?
Hunter says that the state semi-finalist football team headed by Carl Frerichs is a good example, in that “Carl’s done an unbelievable job with the football program, and they have established that culture. It’s such an advantage to have that in place, especially when you share multiple athletes. He’s gotten us off to a great start, and now it’s our job to continue to build that on the basketball floor.”
Hunter reminds fans, however, this kind of building process is just that. “It takes time,” he says. “If it was easy, every school would be great.”
How coaches spread that kind of feeling within a school can extend, Hunter says, into virtually all aspects of student life.
“It goes back to, ‘Are kids doing stuff the right way?’, whether they’re on the bench, in the locker room, on the floor, in the classroom, the whole nine yards.”
The idea, as he boils it down further, is to create a confidence, a feeling in the athletes that they’re prepared to win every time out, with a chance for victory no matter the opponent.
“Absolutely,” says Hunter. “I never did at Naperville North, and never will here at Basalt, focus solely on ‘winning,’ because we don’t control it. If we can control the processes that put us in the very best position to potentially win, we’ll win more times than not. But as far as just talking about ‘winning, winning, winning,’ that’s an outgrowth of the process, something that we’re going back and focusing on.”
How to achieve that focus? Hunter says, “It extends to every little thing – standing up for your teammates when they come to the bench, how many touches can you get in a practice like high fives, how many can you get in a game, how loud can you cheer during a game – all that stuff is just as important as putting the ball in the hoop.”
So we asked Hunter if these sorts of “little things” are key in establishing control – your team’s control over its environment.
“Yes. John Gordon’s one of my favorite authors, and he says, ‘it’s doing the ordinary things with extraordinary commitment, energy, and focus. That sort of sums it up. There’s no special recipe, it’s just ‘can we do those ordinary things to the very, very best of our capabilities?’ When we start to do that consistently, we’re going to start to win. Losing is contagious, but winning is contagious as well. Once you start to focus on the process extremely hard and well, and start to get rewarded in that win column, that becomes contagious. you learn ‘how’ to win, and those close games you’ve been in, usually you’ll end up on top.”
All that said, how does Basalt’s first-year mentor with a ton of experience assess his opening weekend? Dec. 5-7, at the Northern Colorado Roundball Classic in Eaton, Hunter’s Longhorns dropped all three of their contests, to 3A number-10 ranked Eaton 74-37, to Platte Valley 64-53, and in double overtime with a chance to win, Basalt was edged by the Valley Vikings, 77-75.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet thing. Yes, we improved each game. Eaton was very very good. Platte Valley was very athletic and strong, and got to the paint on us way too often.They did a good job capitalizing on that.
“Valley was also athletic, they had kids that had an incredible motor. We didn’t put together a full 32 minutes of basketball, and it ended up hurting us big time in the 4th quarter and the overtimes, because we were climbing out of a huge hole. But that comes back on me, trying to figure out how to get these guys started quicker, with more energy and more focus, more intention in that first quarter to put ourselves in a position to hopefully be expanding a lead instead of trying to remake opportunities.”
Hunter is also optimistic that the spirit he’s trying to instill can lead to not only winning athletes, but better students and happier parents who’ll see those improved grades. “It’s all about confidence. When you have that it spreads out to everybody else. It brings up the level of practice, of game play, and it puts us in better situations throughout games.”
Hunter said he also likes the way a team bonds through overnight trips like last weekend, and the upcoming Izzy Leet Memorial Tournament, Dec. 12-14 in Keenesburg.
“We’re blessed to have that opportunity again this weekend as we go play at Weld Central. Then we come back and face a very good Rifle team, then we have a bit of a break before we scrimmage Eagle Valley Jan. 4th, and our first home game has us playing Coal Ridge on the 14th. Last week they played pretty well in the Brenda Patch Tournament, with an extremely competitive comeback, then they lost the game in overtime (to #7 DSST: Byers, 62-55). They have some kids who can shoot the ball, they’re well-coached, and we’re excited for the competition.”
Hunter’s team returns seniors Jackson Rapaport and Brian Granados, adds seniors Brady Lemke and Sammy Perez to the varsity, and sees juniors Alonso Silva and Rulbe Alvarado coming back, along with sophomore Wish Moore. Also joining the squad are senior Sammy Perez, juniors Alberto Alvarez and Tyler Sims, and sophomore Marlon Nelson. Dec. 12’s first game has Basalt taking on the Vail Mountain School.
Hunter year 1, Contini year 2
The Basalt girls are 1 and 2 so far this season, having lost also to number-10 Eaton 54-33, number-9 Platte Valley 42-26, and beaten Valley in double overtime, 58-51.
Amy Contini is their second-year head coach, taking over the program a year ago with the departure of Longhorn alum Kat Fitzpatrick.
Contini’s first Basalt club went 6 and 15, and toward the end of the season ran up a three-game win streak. Both those marks were the best Longhorn performances in seven years.
Native Alaskan Contini hopes for more in 2019-20, with nearly the entire roster returning, since only Cat Vasquez and Natalie Simicek graduated. That means a lineup led by seven seniors – Zoe Vozick, Taylor Glen, Emma Day, McKinley Braun, Riley Webb, Gaby Magana-Silva, and Marianna Castillo. They’re joined by juniors Kaitlin Boothe, Riley Dolan, Gracie Reardon, Chandra and Katie Bohannon, and Grace Shrock, plus sophomore Lexi Lowe.
Contini plans for that group to all but certainly improve on last year’s record. But their effort to become consistent is taking a bit of a hit with pre-holiday schedule changes. Friday, Dec. 13th’s game with South Park County has been canceled, and a girls-only match with Aspen on the 17th is being moved. So the ’Horns don’t play again until Rifle on Dec. 20, picking up the season with the boys at Coal Ridge Jan. 14.
The coach says, “To really get this season underway now is going to take some time. One thing that’s important to us is we’re scrimmaging more in practice this year, and practices will be really important for us. A lot more 5-on-5, getting the girls used to the ball in their hands, since we have to take care of the ball a bit better. We have almost an all-guard team this year, but are also a team full of shooters and defensive intensity. I think when we get into league play, that’s really going to start to show.”
Like their male counterparts, the Basalt women visibly improved during the Platte Valley end of last week’s classic on the plains.
“If you look at where we are now versus last year at this time, it’s a night and day difference,” says Contini. “And at this stage, progress comes quickly. I know these girls want to be great, and they’re into their junior and senior seasons. I’m telling them there’s a difference between teams that are good and those that are great. It’s the little things that are starting to matter, and that’s taking practice seriously, warmups seriously, going game speed in every drill not just some of them. They’re starting to get it, they’re really great girls, talented and resilient, who pick things up quickly. They go to school forever, come right to practice, and are great friends and family members too.”
The biggest surprise Contini’s Longhorns have for upcoming opponents is that their lineup on the floor going forward will probably look nothing like the ones that were patched together in that first week of the season due to college testing, family commitments and such.
“The girls they’re going to see are going to probably be an entirely different team. We’re blessed this year, in that we have three to four swing girls who’ll see significant JV time, and have been dropping in point totals like 17 each in those games. So at any point, I have up to 14 girls who can play at the varsity level. Last year we had about seven who were truly ready,” she said.
So it should be truly onward and upward for her Longhorns. Contini adds, “We feel much better about things this year. The girls feel a lot better about basketball in general and about winning, in that they know they can come up with a winning record, which Basalt hasn’t done in quite a while. I think that’s our big goal this year.”
All Longhorn basketball games can be heard on coloradosportsnetwork.com.