In his first year as head coach, Adam Trujillo took the Ouray boys’ basketball team to the Class 1A state tournament. The Trojans were quickly knocked out of the double-elimination playoffs.
Three years later, Trujillo’s team defeated the same opponent in the regional final — Sangre de Cristo — in the same gymnasium on the campus of Western Colorado University in Gunnison to reach the tournament. This weekend, the Trojans are hoping for a different end result.
Ouray is back in the state playoffs, this time with a group of seniors who got a taste of what it’s like to perform on the biggest stage in Colorado prep basketball when they were freshmen and would love nothing more than to bring home Ouray’s first boys’ basketball title.
“We’ve been telling them all year they’re good enough,” Trujillo said.
Ouray has a steep hill to climb to become state champions. The eighth-seeded Trojans were scheduled to take on top-seeded Kit Carson this afternoon (March 12) at the University of Northern Colorado. The victor takes on the winner of the game between No. 4 De Beque and No. 5 Briggsdale in a Friday semifinal. The championship game will be Saturday night at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
Like many teams, the Trojans are lead by their upperclassmen: four seniors and a junior. Three of the seniors — Channing Green, Judah Preston and Liam Miller — were on the team that made the state tournament three years ago.
Green, Trujillo said, “is strong, super-competitive, he wants the ball down the stretch. He can go to the rack or shoot the 3. He’s a pretty complete player.”
Miller has “embraced the point guard duties right from the start,” Trujillo said.
Preston is “the kid you might look at and say, ‘Whoever the best player is on the other team, you’re going to guard him.’ He jumps well, blocks a lot of shots.”
Those three seniors were joined this year by another senior, Stuart Owens, who transferred to Ouray from Texas.
“He steadily got better scoring the basketball. We’ve found ways to get him the ball,” Trujillo said.
Then there’s junior Jackson Leo, who plays much than his height might suggest.
“If you’ve never seen him play, you should,” Trujillo said of Leo, a 5-foot-4 shooting guard with terrific athleticism whom Trujillo said leapt over another player — standing on the court — during a game this year.
“He wants to practice every day. He doesn’t want to take days off,” the coach said.
Starting with his first year as coach, Trujillo has instilled a strong work ethic in his players.
“We’re trying to get kids to understand you can’t just be involved (with basketball) from November to March and expect to be your best,” he said.
That means training and preparation begins in June, at a time when most teenagers are relishing the freedom of summer. For those willing to run the gauntlet, it involves a three-day camp in Ouray taught by college-level coaches, a tournament in Colorado Springs and a camp at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction featuring 10 games in four days.
“It’s no mistake a lot of those teams you see in the summer tournament are the same ones still alive at this time of year,” Trujillo said.
The camp in Ouray is open to middle-schoolers, so Trujillo gets a peek at who might be coming up through the ranks in a few years.
Although Ouray enters this weekend’s tournament an underdog in terms of seeding, Trujillo insists he likes the Trojans’ chances. With three players 6-foot-2 or taller, Ouray has a height advantage over a lot of teams, including their first-round opponent, Kit Carson, a team lead by three brothers who stand 5-foot-7 and are lightning-quick but don’t shoot a high percentage, according to Trujillo.
“They’re not unbeatable. I don’t see a team in (Class) 1A that’s unbeatable,” he said.
The coach’s message to his team?
“I’m just telling my kids, stay humble, let’s go win the first one and see what happens.”