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Boys basketball: Mead’s Knudsen earns player of the year

Senior averaged 18.2 points a game as Mavericks made Great 8 run

MEAD, CO - MARCH 29:Mead High School's Elijah Knudsen poses for a portrait in his home gym in Mead on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
MEAD, CO – MARCH 29:Mead High School’s Elijah Knudsen poses for a portrait in his home gym in Mead on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

A love of basketball runs through Elijah Knudsen’s veins.

Long before the Mead senior was even born, basketball had been at the center of the Knudsen family. His parents met while playing college ball, and that passion for the hardwood transcended naturally down to Elijah. When he began to seriously pursue the game around age 7, his father Brandon did everything he could to provide every possible opportunity for his son’s hoops development.

His parents built a small gym in the basement of their house, equipped with a basketball shooting machine, during his freshman year so that Elijah could put in as much time as he wanted to in perfecting his shot.

“The first week or so that I had the gym, it was more like 1,000 or 1,500 (shots) a day, just because I didn’t want to leave it,” Elijah said. “It was so cool. I still don’t want to leave it. It’s 10 steps from my bedroom so I’m able to get in here anytime I want. It’s been around 500, 600 or 700 (shots per day) consistently for the past three or four years now.”

The stats that followed didn’t lie.

As a freshman, Elijah scored just 1.7 points per game during what little time he spent playing varsity. That number rose to 11.6 points per game his sophomore year. During a whirlwind of a junior season, in which the Mavericks won the Class 4A state championship, that statistic peaked at 19.3 points per game before leveling out at 18.2 as a senior.

Elijah’s undeniable shooting talent and the senior leadership he brought to the court during Mead’s Great 8 run in 2022 earned him the player of the year honor. He netted 20 or more points through 10 contests in his last high school season, including four games over 30 points. He recorded his career-high single-game mark of 45 points near the end of his junior year.

Mead's Elijah Knudsen goes up for ...
Alissa Noe/
Mead’s Elijah Knudsen goes up for a layup during the first half of the Mavericks’ Class 4A state tournament Great 8 home game against Frederick on Saturday night.

“It was a blast,” Elijah said. “I had a great four years of high school basketball. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and a better program. It was sad for a couple of days (after the Great 8 loss), but then the focus just switched and I realized I’ve got more going. I’ve got bigger, better things coming.”

His ride to that kind of offensive production wasn’t easy, especially as he became the main target for any and every opponent’s defensive game plan. He only stands at 5–10, meaning he had to work harder than nearly everyone else to achieve the level of speed and athleticism that haunted the teams that tried to contain him on any given night.

“He’s not wide open, standing there shooting set shots. He’s taking fadeaway 30-footers, right? If you’ve seen him play, he does not take easy shots,” his father Brandon said. “He went from the slowest kid on the floor to almost every game, no matter what level — whether Las Vegas or East Coast — he’s the fastest kid on the floor. It’s not from his parents. He put the work in. He did it himself. You see athletes and they’re born and God said, ‘You’re going to be a great athlete.’ That’s not Elijah. He had to work for it.”

His work isn’t done yet.

Even though Elijah’s days of donning a burnt orange jersey are behind him, he’s committed to play collegiately at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction with fellow Maverick James Shiers next year. CMU boasts a strong Division-II program to help further his prowess in academics and on the hardwood, but he knows he’ll have to earn every minute he plays from here on out.

Thanks to the opportunities provided to him by his hoops-loving parents, that type of work ethic is not unfamiliar territory for Elijah. It began during Mead’s run toward the 4A state championship in 2020 — one which ended prematurely due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — and culminated in a Class 4A state title in 2021 and a deep run through the 4A state tournament in 2022.

“Mead has really been great for that because he walked in on a team where they were so special sophomore year,” Brandon said. “He started, but he was just a small piece of that team. His job was to guard and make 3-pointers and just do what he had to do. That’s kind of, a little bit, what his role is going to be (at Colorado Mesa). They have this incredible team, probably top five in the nation next year. He’s kind of gone through that, where it’s like he doesn’t have to go be the man, he’s just going to have to go work.”