NIWOT — Unlike a man turning into a werewolf at the sight of a full moon, the Niwot boys basketball team might not transform into a beast of a squad in one season.
But with Enoch Miller leading the way, the Cougars are ready to up the ante a little bit in the tough Northern League after things fell apart last season.
A mildly successful program the past few years, Niwot fell to 8-15 last season, a mark that included just three wins in the league. The result was an overhaul in coaching, with Travis Maron leaving the program after three seasons.
It did not take too long before the Cougars found who they think is the right fit, though, hiring Miller away from Shining Mountain not long after he had led the Lions to the Class 1A title game. And since then, he has left an impression on the program that has players like senior Kyle Kolakowski rejuvenated after issues with motivation in 2012-13.
“I was on the interview committee, so I got to meet him early and I really liked what he had to say. Just impressed by his record and more so what he thought he could do here,” Kolakowski said.
“I love the new offense, and I think it’s well thought out. There are a lot of pieces that will fit together well, and coach Enoch, man, he’s just really smart when it comes to basketball. In the offense, I think you’ll see more improvisation. There’s more room for your own spin on something, but still having a really good setup. I think we’re more relaxed in how it’s run.”
On paper, there are plenty of reasons for the Cougars to be excited. Miller was a part of two small-school titles in his playing days not more than 17 years ago, and he went on to work under Mike Dunlap at Metro State before becoming a head coach. Last year, his Shining Mountain team made it all the way to the state title game and finished 23-3.
Miller started working with the team almost immediately in hopes that he could get to know his guys as well as the parents and support staff within the school. The rise through the 4A ranks might not come at the drop of a hat, but Miller is starting with small goals and banking on them adding up.
“They’re buying in to the approach of just taking it day to day going as hard as you can in practice, and those are our goals,” Miller said. “We started last spring and had a nice spring and summer. A good portion of the guys have been there the whole way. I feel like it doesn’t seem like too crazy a change for them because we have been pushing ourselves since May.
“Confidence comes from preparation, and these guys are doing the best they can to prepare themselves to be successful.”
“I think it’s unbelievable how much he’s already been willing to put into the team,” junior guard Jason Seper said. “It’s a main priority to him, and he’s devoted so much time to help us get better. Pushing as to make sure that we’re bonding as a team, because team comes first before everything. Makes us want to work harder and play better for him.”
The Cougars return but a couple of full-time varsity players from last year, but the bench will be deeper game in and game out this season with a consistent 12 players. Kolakowski was one of just eight players who saw a majority of the minutes (three other players played in a combined nine games all of last season), and he brings with him an 8.8 point per game average.
Clarke Colwell, the team’s leading scorer at 10.8 points per game, will likely have to be eased into the rotation as he has dealt with various injuries, but 6-foot-5 junior Brendan Gray brings some good size to the paint, too. The offense will run through point guard Jonny Drake, a 5-10 junior, with Kolakowski and Charlie Mitelhuas filling guard/forward roles.
Miller said that Seper is one of the better up-and-comers on the team, and he is cemented in a shooting guard spot.
“I think Jason is going to have a huge role, and he’s been consistent for us and is an excellent shooter,” Miller said. “He’s really gotten stronger, faster and he’s working on his defense.
“Two-K (Kolakowski) has also bought in to what we’re doing and he’s got a lot of talent. He’s just going to keep getting better, and I think those two guys will be huge for us.”
But they won’t be the only options. Overall, the depth is something Kolakowski said should keep the team more competitive in the later stages of games.
“We are really excited because we have 12 guys on the varsity as opposed to eight last year,” he said. “I think that’s different coaching styles. Coach (Maron), he was a good coach but he worked with a really small squad and then had people swing between JV and varsity. I love that (Miller) has the full team set out, and I hope that everyone is able to play and be a part of the cast.”
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