With 3A Bayfield Head Coach – and 2018 CHSCA All-State Games Black Team skipper – Jeff Lehnus (seated) scanning the court from behind him, 2A Ignacio’s John Valdez (54) brings the ball around the three-point arc and away from 5A Northglenn’s Kevin Jimenez (5) during semifinal action Friday, June 8, inside Adams State University’s Plachy Hall.
2A Ignacio’s John Valdez glances up excitedly at the scoreboard inside Adams State University’s Plachy Hall, seeing the 2018 CHSCA All-State Games’ Black Team’s offensive handiwork.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
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Valdez blends well with All-State ’ballers

With only two scheduled practices in which to create some cohesion before competition at the 2018 Colorado High School Coaches Association All-State Games commenced, time spent bonding outside of Adams State University’s Plachy Hall proved just as essential to the basketball teams’ on-court successes.

John Valdez would definitely agree. His footing failing him and the ball trying to bounce away towards midcourt late in the 62nd annual multi-sport spectacle’s June 9 championship, the graduated Ignacio Bobcat had half a second—at best—to not only guess the proximity of the ‘Red’ squad’s pursuit, but also locate an unguarded Black uniform…all while simultaneously going into a headlong dive to simply catch up to and rein in the rock.

Popping into view outside the three-point line was 1A Weston Primero product Vince Damelio—the hottest hand in the house, and with whom the team-oriented Valdez just happened to be bunking for the event.

“Vince and I were roommates, so I got to know him really well,” said Valdez.  “We had a really good chemistry together…lots of talking, so when I saw him wide-open, I knew I had to get it to him!  There was no way he was going to miss if I made a play on the ball.”

Able to shovel the sphere forward before crash-landing, Valdez saw Damelio—owner of a 61-point game this past winter—turn his effort into an assist with a quick catch-n-cash from downtown, energizing his crew and all the fans in the building.

“We’d grabbed the rebound and…. I was able to get past that huge, long Huffman,” the 5’11” Valdez said, referring to 4A Edwards Battle Mountain’s 6’7” Devin Huffman.  “And I just focused—because I was tripping—on getting the ball…out there, and I was able to get it to him!”

“We put a good dent in that lead, and that was a big spark for us right there…to kind of stay in the game.”

But having trailed Red 30-27 after the first ten-minute quarter, 56-50 at halftime and 81-68 as the final frame got underway, Black’s fourth-quarter comeback fell nine points short with 100-91 being the final margin.

“This Red team, they were pretty good, but we just made a lot of mistakes down the line,” said Valdez, who scored four points. “Took too many shots early on and we kind of dug ourselves a hole.”

“That other team had several bigs and some strength inside,” 3A Bayfield’s Jeff Lehnus—the Black Head Coach—said, alluding particularly to 4A Widefield’s 6’5” Tre Pierre (20 points), Huffman (five), and 1A Blanca Sierra Grande’s 6’2” Arthur Rodriguez (12).  “The boys competed, never quit going at it, and they played together.  Everybody contributed, and it was my pleasure to work with…not only talented young men, but good young men.”

“Very coachable, and they were very complimentary towards each other.  Just a neat experience.”

5A Highlands Ranch Rock Canyon’s Tyson Gilbert scored a game-high 21 points for the victors, while 4A Colorado Springs Mesa Ridge’s Deven Nelson pumped in 18 points to lead Black—which sank 16 threes (out of 32 total field goals) to Red’s 12—in the loss.

Damelio and 2A Del Norte’s Carlos Parra each finished with 14, and 5A Westminster Mountain Range’s Michael Polson also hit double figures with ten points, as no Black participant scored fewer than four in either the championship contest or semifinal conquest.

Facing Blue the previous evening, Black emphatically secured the second berth into the grand finale and, for all practical purposes, needed just the first quarter in which to do so.  With all ten players—which also included BHS’ Ryan Phelps and 3A Pagosa Springs’ Isaiah Griego—scoring at least two points, Black racked up 43 while allowing just 15 en route to a 106-93 triumph (Red had defeated White 103-96 in overtime to win the first semi).

The tenth to register a basket during the opening onslaught, Valdez finished with four points while Damelio logged 20 and nailed four of his team-best eight total treys.  Griego scored 14 and Phelps 13, and Polson (11), Nelson (10) and 4A Johnstown Roosevelt’s T.J. Sterling (10) were also in double digits.

5A Northglenn’s Kevin Jimenez scored a Blue-best 25 in defeat, with 2A Edwards Vail Christian’s Sebastian Moritz and 3A Greeley Frontier Academy’s Zach Hidalgo each booking 15 in support.

“Everyone here can play basketball…that’s for sure!” Phelps stated.  “When I saw the roster for the first time and I’m seeing that I’ve got a Pagosa kid and an Ignacio kid on my team, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.”

“But Johnny I’ve always gotten along with, Isaiah I’ve always gotten along with; they’re great kids and I love ’em both, wish them the best of luck in their college sports too.  It was a pleasure playing with all these guys.”

“It was a great experience with these guys—feeding everybody the basketball, moving freely and not having a huge load on my back the whole time,” said Valdez.  “I think I had a lot of assists, a lot of good steals and…plays to help my team win the first game, and some that kind of kept us in [the second].  That’s really what I wanted to get out of it.”

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