Seniors have been steady players for Tigers
The 3-point shot, one of basketball’s great equalizers.
Entering his freshman year at Grand Junction High School, Trenton Soriano was short, not exceptionally athletic and an outsider.
But he sure could shoot.
His Grand Junction freshmen teammates Henry Carmichael, Greg Eccher, and to a lesser extent Broderick Robinson, played on the same basketball teams growing up.
Soriano attended middle school at Messiah Lutheran, a Grand Junction school of about 100 students, and didn’t have an extensive background in club basketball. No one knew who he was.
But it wasn’t long until his ability to shoot the deep ball won his new teammates over.
“I was kind of the kid that no one knew much about,” Soriano said. “It took a lot of pick-up games to get there, to where some of these guys realized, ‘Oh, he’s part of us now. This kid can shoot.’
“I think in that first freshman game with Greg and Henry, they realized that I could help them out. They saw that I could shoot the ball. That really clicked it. And, I mean, guys drifted off into other things, but I think for us, that core group, that first game was when we realized we had the potential to be something special.”
Special is one of many words that can describe the seniors on Grand Junction, which will take on Rampart in the Class 5A playoffs at 2 p.m. Saturday at Grand Junction High School. The Tigers are the fourth seed in their state playoff bracket, and Rampart is the 12th seed, fresh off an upset of fifth-seeded Cherokee Trail.
The Tigers cracked the 20-win threshold, at 20-2, for the first time since the 2007-08 season. They’ve won the past two Southwestern League titles. This season, Grand Junction finished undefeated in the SWL and was seven points away from an undefeated season. The Tigers won all but one league game by at least 16 points.
“You always see these guys in middle school and AAU and stuff,” Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson said. “And Broderick, he played some varsity as a freshman, but the rest of these guys played together coming up. Between freshman, JV basketball and now, they’ve won a lot more games together than they’ve lost.
“But their freshman year, nobody stood out, really. It was a collective group of pretty good basketball players. They had some bigger kids with them that also played football that didn’t end up playing (basketball) for four years, so at first we thought size was going to be the thing with them. They’ve never been flashy or crazy, but they’ve played great, team-oriented basketball from freshman year on. That’s been their real strength.”
Eccher said there wasn’t anything flashy about the group, but as early as elementary school, they thought they could be a special group of basketball players.
“There are a lot less of us now, but the ones that are still here, I still think we’re a special group,” Eccher said. “We aimed high this year. One of our goals, especially after the two losses, was a 20-win season. We were thinking undefeated for a while.”
The senior ranks thinned even further when Carmichael tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee during an open gym in the summer, but Carmichael stuck around. Johnson enlisted Carmichael as an assistant coach, and Carmichael has taken an active coaching role with his teammates.
His injury left him out for the entire season, but Carmichael did dress out and warm up with the team on senior night.
“I didn’t even play,” Carmichael said. “I had to run around town to find my doctor just to get cleared to dress out. Totally worth it, though, being able to dress out with these guys.”
But now, the Tigers get the opportunity to cap a spectacular regular season with a deep playoff run.
“I really wish Henry was in with this group,” Johnson said. “But otherwise, I mean, this is still a very talented group of basketball players who can match up with just about anyone in front of them.”