They call it the Sweet Sixteen. Sixteen teams remain, all in quest for the prized state championship. When the ball is thrown in the air at tip-off, it’s winning time. All previous rankings, battles, highs, and lows are out the window, and only one team can continue on. The Wolverines are young, but hungry, and have worked from the lowest of fan expectations to win widespread respect. And as head coach Tellus Truesdale said unhesitantly: “We aren’t afraid of anybody.”
Standing on the other side of the court on the neutral Manual High School floor is the George Washington Patriots, and the athletes are freakish. The high-jumping, fast-speed, and built group is led by senior Jervay Green, the same player who scored 64 points by himself 3 weeks ago. The team is ranked 4th in the state, but Truesdale thinks even higher of them. “In my eyes, they’re the best team in the state,” said Truesdale. “They’re fast, athletic, and are the best scoring team in Colorado.”
Don’t think that the 92-61 George Washington win over Chap in the regular season or the high reputation of the Patriots’ program discourages the Wolverines. “We’ve played the best teams in the state and are a confident group,” said Truesdale. “The pressure is more on them than it is on us.”
The stands are filling up as the teams warm up at Manual High School. As the Chaparral players look around, they see family. Girls varsity head coach Tony Speights looks on from the opposite baseline. The cheerleaders and sea of red hype themselves up. Former NBA star Jason Richardson walks in, attracting many stunned looks from the crowd. The George Washington kids come from a more urban, diverse background on the east side of downtown Denver, while the Chap students hail from the growing suburb of Parker. Crazy how a wooden floor, orange ball, and tall basket can bring people together.
Finally, after all the anxiousness building up from both sides, the game tips with the Wolverines gaining possession and sophomore Ronnie Degray quickly scoring the first bucket on an easy layup. Degray is a literal sophomore, but a figurative senior. On a team full of young guys, he is the leader, and has a maturity that transcends his youth.
Degray scores the first 8 points of the game, and the circumstances seem great early for the underdog Wolverines. But from that point on, the Patriots took over.
The quickness, the agility, the explosiveness, the tenacity. Chaparral didn’t have the ability to put out the fire created by the George Washington stars. Degray contributed all that he could, netting 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. The 14th best scoring team in the US in George Washington rolled to a 83-57 win, and what seemed momentous was the pain of defeat felt contagiously in the entire building from the Chap fans.
A NEW ERA:
What comes instantly following a long season is the coaches evaluating their players, the fans evaluating their team, and the players evaluating themselves. From the beginning, Truesdale knew of his team’s capabilities, but what matters is what’s executed on the floor. “We have a group of guys who are responsible and play for the team,” said Truesdale. “We might be young, but our guys play like seniors.” Looking back on an accomplished season, here are the top five games of the year in Chaparral basketball:
December 8, 2016: Grand Junction vs Chaparral: Chap wins 74-45
Ronnie Degray drops 24 points and 7 rebounds, Joseph Dalton adds 17 points and 4 rebounds, and Bryce Matthews tallies 8 points and 10 rebounds. The three starting sophomores showcased their maturity and skill despite their young age, and the Wolverines decisively move on to the semifinals of the Chaparral/ThunderRidge Tipoff Tournament.
December 16, 2016: Agassi Prep vs Chaparral: Chap wins 83-48
This was the largest margin of victory for Chap on the season, and playing under the bright lights in Las Vegas, the team was able to celebrate a little extra that day. Every player that dressed scored at least 2 points, with junior Wayne Fish and Matthews leading the way scoring 14 a piece.
December 20, 2016: Chaparral vs Coral Academy: Chap wins 79-62
Another game in Vegas, another game where Matthews went off. This time, he finished with 27 points and 20 rebounds, both career bests by far. The 20 rebounds is a number that has never been done by a Chap sophomore, and anyone in attendance witnessed a piece of Wolverine basketball history.
February 10, 2017: Chaparral vs Legend: Chap wins 50-45
Degray’s 15 points and freshman Kobe Sanders’s 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists fueled yet another victory for Chaparral over Legend. Since head coach Tellus Truesdale took over two years ago, the Wolverines have always beaten the Titans.
February 15, 2017: Regis Jesuit vs Chaparral: Chap wins 53-50
Overcoming a 12 point lead late in the third quarter, the Wolverines showcased an unbelievable finish in the second round playoff game. Dalton took over with 19 points and 5 rebounds, and Degray had 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
By Carson Frost