‘Cats coaches preach old-school mentality to defending league champs

Fruita Monument coach Dave Fox has plenty of coaching experience and will have plenty of talent back on the court this season. The Wildcats have won 20 straight league games.

Two-time Southwestern League player of the year Drew Bridges is back to lead the Fruita Monument Wildcats, who have won 20 straight league games.



League: Western Slope League (4A)

Coach: Steve Phillips (4th season, 32nd overall)

2010-11: 12-11

Key players: Kane Gunther, F/PF, Sr.; Caleb Hall, G, Sr.; Connor Whaley, SG, Sr.; Kyle Monger, F/PF, Sr.; Jered Kusal, PG, Sr.; Jesus Aguirre, PF/C, Jr.

Outlook: Phillips said his team is loaded with senior 6-footers who will run the ball, play stifling defense and try to avoid half-court sets. Seven players from the football team, including quarterback Luke McLean, are trying to transition from the gridiron to the hardwood. “This is the first time we’ve had this much depth,” Phillips said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can play ‘D’ and hopefully we can put pressure on the ball.”


Conference: Southwestern League (5A)

Coach: Ryan Hayden (1st season)

2010-11: 11-12

Key players: Taylor Sanchez, PG, Sr.; Edward Becoat, G, Jr.; Clay Squire, F, Jr.; Angel Galindo, G, Sr.

Outlook: Hayden, a player at Palisade and an assistant coach for the Bulldogs’ boys basketball team for 10 years after his high school graduation, graduated only two seniors last season and is hoping Sanchez, a quarterback on the football team, recovers fully from a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. “We’ve got about eight or nine guys pushing each other in practice, so things change on a daily basis,” Hayden said. “A lot of competitiveness creates a lot of improvement in practice.” Hayden said his players are believing in the first-year coach’s system. “It’s tough for the kids getting used to new verbiage and new terminology and a change in philosophy,” Hayden said, “but the buy-in has been great.”


Conference: Southwestern League (5A)

Coach: Dutch Johnson (9th season)

2010-11: 17-8, lost in second round of state to No. 1-seeded Arapahoe

Key players: Sean Rubalcaba, F, Sr; Casey Burns, F, Sr.; Garrett Harrison, G, Sr; Justin Whiting, G, Sr.

Outlook: With four football players expected to join the Tigers from a team that made the state quarterfinals, Grand Junction will be strong and fast with exceptional outside shooting. Johnson is waiting for Jerreon Dennis, a running back in football, to let his fractured right hand heal. “Those guys will come in a little rusty,” Johnson said. “But they bring that winning edge.” Also, the Tigers’ junior varsity went 17-1 last season. Many of those players are juniors on the varsity this season.


Conference: Southwestern League (5A)

Coach: Dave Fox (7th season, 31st overall)

2010-11: 18-8, SWL champion, lost in round of 16 to Highlands Ranch

Key players: Drew Bridges, F, Sr.; Alex Padgett, G, Sr.; James Lewis, G, Sr.; Cody Daniels, PG, Sr.; Spence Fair, C, Jr.; Alex Jouflas, G, Sr.; Zach Thorpe, G, Sr.

Outlook: Led by two-time Southwestern League player of the year Drew Bridges and guard Alex Padgett, Fruita is loaded with talent and athleticism. “We just have to figure out who’s going to get up and rebound, who’s going to take the tough shot,” Fox said. “We have to figure out those roles.” Fruita is the returning league champion and has 20 consecutive league victories.

Dave Fox and Butch Thorpe are used to players who listen. Players who know fundamentals, who set their egos aside in favor of the squad.

Because they were spoiled by girls.

Safe to say, Fox, the head basketball coach at Fruita Monument, and Thorpe, an assistant, will not be signing up for male-female communications classes or reading why men are from Mars, and women, Venus.

To them, they’re all from Earth anyway.

Fox coached Fruita’s girls basketball team from 1985-1994, leading the Wildcats to a 1989 state championship, 1987 state runner-up finish and the final four on four occasions.

Thorpe, a six-year assistant, coached the Harrison High School girls in Colorado Springs from 1985-1998, leading the Panthers to a 215-104 record and three second-place finishes at state.

As the coaches prepare the returning Southwestern League champion Fruita Monument boys for a season in which it returns two-time conference player of the year Drew Bridges, they realize they’re blessed to have talented, coachable players. And they’re male.

“Girls are so fundamentally sound and we’ve used that (experience) with the boys,” Thorpe said. “But boys are just so quick and strong.”

And these coaches, with their backgrounds coaching detail-oriented girls, expect the same from boys, who as teenagers are sometimes stereotyped as a bit, well ... focus-deprived.

“They better do it our way,” Fox said.

And their way is with defense, specifically a run-and-jump full-court press, which is a man-to-man press that emphasizes switching on picks.

Although Fox said he and Thorpe are “old-school” — they don’t like their players to wear earrings or long-sleeved shirts or an abundance of arm bands that look like an open pack of Life Savers — they allow the boys to use their imagination. That is, perhaps, what boys do best.

“We’re allowed to do fancy things with the basketball, some flashy stuff,” senior guard Alex Padgett said during Tuesday afternoon’s practice, “but we’re still fundamental, and that’s what wins games.”

Padgett and Bridges bumped fists, Bridges approving of Padgett’s words.

That, of course, encouraged Padgett some more.

“I’ve heard that this group of kids, at least the coaches in the program told us, we are very good at listening,” Padgett said.

For Padgett, “flash” means using his back as a means of hiding the basketball.

He does it through behind-the-back passes, twirling the ball a full circle behind his back as a fake pass before a layup, or by palming the ball and faking a behind-the-back pass by halting the passing motion at his spine and, then, once again, laying the ball off the glass.

For Bridges, on the other hand, “flash” just means a dunk.

“Just pound it down,” Bridges said.

“I’d finesse a dunk if I ever get a chance to,” Padgett added.

Then, another fist bump. And matching smiles.

Under coaches with exceptional resumes coaching girls and plenty of wins on the boys bench, the Wildcats play fundamental basketball spiced with athleticism and style.

Boys and girls basketball, despite their differences, always tend to meet on some level. During a shoot-around Tuesday, guard Cody Daniels dribbled to the sideline and tossed a ball back to team manager Sydney Heart.

Wrong ball.

“Look at it — 28.5 (ounces),” Daniels said.

“Girls ball.”


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