The Mead boys basketball team has reached the Class 4A Great 8 in each of the past two seasons, which is particularly impressive for a program that has been around for less than a decade.
But it will be interesting, especially given the talent the team has graduated in recent years, to see if the Mavericks are able to get back to the state quarterfinals with a younger group in 2017-18. Given how well Mead's top-ranked football team is doing, the basketball team will likely also have to play a little catch-up with its multi-sport athletes getting a late start.
Now that winter sports have officially started practicing, I caught up with Mavericks head coach Darin Reese to get a feel for the atmosphere in the Mead gym and throughout the school.
Question: The Mead basketball team asserted its status as one of the top programs in the state over the past several seasons. But you guys have lost a lot of firepower — Walker Korell, James Maher, Michael Ward, Alex Sandstrom, et al. — over the past two seasons. What can we expect from the Mavericks this winter?
Reese: You know, we have lost a lot and we've had two great groups the last couple years. I think, overall, our program's culture has been a process. We're in our ninth year and we've gotten progressively better, mainly because of our kids. This year's group, we'll be young and we'll be developing throughout the year.
I guess it would be naive for me to think we can have that same level of success right off the bat with a younger group that's still improving. But we've got some great kids who love to compete and they're tough. It could take us a while to get on the same page but I'm excited for what we've got coming up.
You mentioned that you'll be young. I mentioned some of the guys who have recently graduated. But on this year's team, who do you expect to assume a bigger role and to make a significant impact?
Just to be totally up front, we've got a bunch of guys who aren't even out yet because of our football team being in the playoffs so we still have guys that need to go through the tryout process. Derek Edwards has been awesome on the football field this year. He is also a senior and the only guy who has been a part of the varsity basketball program for the last two years. We'll look to him for a lot different things, especially leadership stuff like showing younger guys what we're about, how to act, important stuff like that.
The other guy who comes back is Jax Wilke. He's about 6-7, 6-8 and while he's still developing physically, he's really skilled and he'll be tough to handle. In all, though, I think we'll have about 10 guys on the varsity who are going to contribute and we'll have some sophomores who get a good amount of playing time too.
The Mead football team is the top overall seed in the playoffs and looks like it's rolling at the right time. What's the atmosphere like at Mead High School with the football team doing so well at this time of the year?
It's just a ton of excitement. There's a buzz around the school, around the kids. There are so many kids in the football program. I think we have over a hundred. With so many kids involved, that brings in so many other kids who aren't involved in football, staff included.
We've experience some of that in the last two years during our basketball runs and it's really been cool to see the football team doing the same thing last year and this year. There's a real buzz around the school. You can feel it.
As usual, it looks like you've loaded up that non-league schedule pretty good. Are there any pre-holiday tournaments or non-league games you're particularly excited about this season? And are you worried about how your younger team will hold up against that level of competition?
We've gone down to Pueblo the past few years and that's been a really great team bonding experience. That Preview Classic the first week, where we'll play Pueblo Central, Lewis-Palmer and Pueblo South, that's going to be tough. And our three non-league games are D'Evelyn, Longmont and Valor Christian, so we're going to find out a lot about ourselves in some of those games.
I guess I've always believed in a challenging non-league schedule, and though we don't return a lot, we've got some experienced basketball kids who have seen a lot of court time. Again, it would be naive to think we'll just pick it right up. But we saw it this summer and they have some resolve. I feel good about this group's mentality and hopefully by the end of February, we'll be together and we'll be playing our best basketball.
With different personnel, and once teams get to know your program's style a bit better, it seems necessary to change up at least a few little things each year. In what ways will the Mavericks look different on the court this season?
With the size we have, we'd be silly to try to use that a little more to our advantage. We've had size in the past, but a lot of that was kind of perimeter size. This year, we've got some more inside size so we may try to rework how we do some things, both offensively and defensively.
Outside of Jax, who is a good outlet passer and a great guy to have as your trailer, we also have some good speed and some pretty good guards and length on the perimeter. So we will definitely still continue to push the ball, which is something we've always wanted to do.