LONGMONT — Over the two seasons prior to this one, the Longmont boys basketball team won more games than any other prep squad in Colorado's Class 4A division.
Consequently, possibly no team in the classification has graduated more basketball talent over those past two years than the Trojans, who reached the state title game in 2015 and the Final Four in 2016. For this year's follow-up campaign, the Trojans did not return a single player from the previous year's starting lineup for the first time in head coach Jeff Kloster's 23-year tenure.
But as thin as the Trojans' roster figured to be in 2016-17, the Longmont boys have thus far proven that they were working with far more than cobwebs coming into this season.
"We haven't won as many games as we have the past couple years but we all think our chemistry is really good and we will be able to do some damage in the playoffs," Trojans junior guard Luke Johnson said. "Coach put a good schedule together for us and we've played a ton of good teams and that's making us better. We're just working hard and getting better every week."
Currently with a 7-7 record, the Trojans have played the type of schedule one would expect from a state title contender and are 19th in the 4A RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) standings. Their seven losses include four teams (Golden, D'Evelyn, Silver Creek and Mead) that are currently ranked in the Class 4A top 10 by the CHSAANow.com poll, as well as Tri-Valley League-leading Northridge and Class 5A Rocky Mountain. Four of the Trojans' losses were by eight points or less.
Throughout the Trojans' many close games against quality opponents, Johnson, one of only a few players who played meaningful minutes off the bench last season, has shined. He is currently leading the team with 16.3 points and 2.1 steals per game, second on the undersized squad averaging 3.2 rebounds, and is seen by Kloster as not just this year's top player but the type of player the team can build around moving into next year.
"I've been trying to become more of a leader," Johnson said. "A lot of our guys haven't played much varsity so I've just focused on carrying the load on offense and set the tone on defense. We're all about executing and being fundamentally strong so we have to focus on those little things if we're going to get wins."
Teaming with Johnson to form a frontcourt that is pacing the Trojans this season, senior guard Tol Mugunga leads the team with 3.1 assists per game. Second on the team a 9.4-point scoring average, he is also the team's only senior. Between Johnson and Mugunga, their shared ability to vault from first players off the bench last year to the first players to touch the ball on nearly every possession this season has been the biggest reason for this young group of Trojans to remain among the state's top-tier teams.
"A lot of it is definitely a result of our coaching," Mugunga said. "They have a system that they've had for like 25 years now, so we stick to that system and we've bought in. All the young guys have bought in and we're just trying to keep the line moving. We've faced a lot of tough situations early this season that have prepared us to make a run in the playoffs. And even after this season, the sky is the limit for these guys."
Kicking off their second turn through the Northern League, the Trojans are back in action at home against Centaurus (3-10, 0-7 Northern) on Friday.