The difference of a year: Growth spurts, offseason work help Gunther, Hall improve

Palisade High School boys basketball players Caleb Hall and Kane Gunther weren’t eased into varsity basketball.

They never got to be the last players on the varsity bench, observing what varsity basketball is like.

Hall and Gunther were thrown into the fray.

By the middle of their freshman season, Hall and Gunther were Palisade’s starting guards on a team that lost its first 12 games.

“It was a unique situation. Sometimes they are ready, and sometimes they are not,” Palisade coach Steve Phillips said. “But they gained valuable experience from last year and we just got better and better. We just weren’t physically able to match up with some people.”

Last season, Phillips returned to the high school sideline after an eight-year hiatus. Phillips has coached a total of 29 years, and said it was the first time he started two freshmen guards in the same backcourt.

But he did so with good reason. Both players were talented enough to be in a starting role, but were noticeably undersized going against upperclassmen who were sometimes nearly four years older.

“It was intimidating as a freshman,” Gunther said. “It was a challenge to play against kids with tattoos, and things like that.”

But the two survived, and helped the Bulldogs turn the corner at the end of the season. Palisade finished with six wins, and gave Cheyenne Mountain all it could handle in the first round of the playoffs. Hall had a season-high 20 points in that game, and Gunther started at point guard all season, averaging 5.5 points per game.

Senior Jeremy Hayden has been the Bulldogs’ leading scorer the past two seasons, averaging 17.6 points per game this season. Hayden said he was impressed with Hall and Gunther’s toughness last season.

“We had two freshmen guards. I was thinking, ‘these guys are young, but they are talented,’ ” Hayden said. “They kept getting better last year, and they’ve gotten so much better this offseason.”

During the offseason, Gunther and Hall both improved their basketball skills, but also got a much-needed growth spirt. Hall said he grew only an inch to his current height of 6-foot-1, but added nearly 20 pounds.

“For me, it was getting stronger more than anything else,” Hall said. “It’s really helped because there were times last year where I would get shoved around.”

Gunther grew to 6-1, and has been a much more dangerous offensive threat, along with being a better rebounder and defender.

“The physical growth has really helped,” Phillips said. “They are both really good athletes, and know the game well, so the physical maturity has helped.”

This season, Gunther’s improvement has been apparent from the start as he scored 17 points and scored crucial baskets in crunch time to defeat Douglas County for Palisade’s first win of the year. Playing the point guard, Gunther is averaging 11.3 points per game.

“I’ve been trying to get more physical this year,” Gunther said. “I’ve also been turning the ball over a lot less, and trying to contribute to the scoring a lot more.”

Hall’s transition to his second year hasn’t been as smooth. Hall struggled to put up points early in the season, scoring a total of 10 points through the first four games. But he’s found his stride lately, scoring 11 points against Centauri and 13 points against Montrose to round out the first half of the season.

“Caleb can shoot,” Hayden said. “They know he’s going to shoot it, and he can still shoot it in a crowd.”

Still only sophomores, Hall and Gunther have a lot of room for growth in the next three seasons. Phillips said it’s going to be important for both players to improve in all aspects of the game.

“Both have to be coaches on the floor, and know every possession counts.” Phillips said. “They both have to pay the price at the defensive end, which I don’t think they’ve done so far. When they bear down and get after it defensively, we’ll all inherit those benefits.”

The two players’ maturation, along with strong play by Nate Yanez, Dakota Bond and Gabe Hellmann, has the Bulldogs off to a 3-4 start. Last season, the Bulldogs didn’t get have their third win until the final two weeks of the season.

“We won a few games, but we have a tough six-game stretch starting with Rifle (on Friday),” Phillips said. “I don’t think there isn’t anyone we can’t beat, but we have to play above our own expectations.”


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