Palisade’s Hellmann uses defense to his advantage
Gabe Hellmann decided early on that defense was going to be his role.
The decision stemmed from the Palisade High School junior spending much of his time in youth basketball observing instead of playing.
“When I was in middle school I really didn’t play much because I wasn’t a great offensive player,” Hellmann said. “So I started to focus on defense more.
“Once I got to (Palisade), how I tried to make the team was by playing tough defense in the tryout.”
Hellmann made the squad and spent his freshman year playing junior varsity. It wasn’t long into his sophomore year before he was in the spotlight.
The Bulldogs were facing Bear Creek in last season’s Warrior Challenge, and the Bears’ Jaron Price was coming off a 27-point performance against Grand Junction. Price lit up Palisade for 16 points in the first quarter before Bulldogs coach Steve Phillips put the untested, unproven Hellmann in to guard him.
Price scored three points the rest of the game, and Palisade won 54-48.
“Coach told me to shut him down, and I took it as a challenge,” Hellmann said. “I don’t remember much else besides that we won.”
Hellmann has grown about two inches since he was a sophomore, and is now 6-foot-2. He’s responsible for guarding the opponents’ best player, and Phillips said his versatility is what makes him so valuable.
“He’s quick enough to cover some perimeter-type players, but he’s tough enough to play inside,” Phillips said. “He’s willing to put himself out there, and defensively you have to put your ego aside.”
Hellmann doesn’t block many shots, but has a knack for creating turnovers. He just does whatever he can to keep his man from scoring.
“I just move my feet, watch the waist and not go for any pump-fakes,” Hellmann said. “I stay on my feet and try to make them work for their points.”
Hellmann had one of his toughest assignments last weekend against Glenwood Springs’ Kevin Flohr. The senior guard scored 32 points the first time the teams played, but Phillips said he didn’t have Hellmann guard Flohr in that game.
Last Friday night, Phillips matched him up against Flohr, who scored 16 points, but went only 4 of 13 from the field.
“I like playing defense. I wouldn’t say it’s fun, but I take it as a challenge,” Hellmann said.
“If someone is tough defensively, you tend to think about that rather than how you’re shooting,” Hellmann said.
Phillips said he’s always been impressed with the way Hellmann defends, and it’s starting to rub off on his teammates. The Bulldogs are allowing an average of 54 points per game, down from the 59 points per game they allowed last season.
“It’s contagious,” Phillips said. “Once you have guys diving for balls and making plays on defense, then other guys start doing it.”
The Bulldogs (8-11, 4-4 Western Slope League) are sitting fourth in the league, but have an important stretch coming up. Palisade plays three straight road games, beginning Friday at Steamboat Springs.
“We still have a chance to be second in league,” Hellmann said. “It’s going to be tough, but our goal is to win out.”