Aided by the inspired play of Lucas Lee, Aspen basketball rallies past Englewood
AHS senior lost his mother after Friday’s game but still showed up to play Saturday for the Skiers
All Lucas Lee wanted Saturday was to play basketball.
With his father in the stands and the majority of the Aspen High School fans in attendance wearing a T-shirt with Lee’s No. 3 on it, the senior bravely stepped foot onto the court and delivered the most inspired performance of his career.
It came less than 24 hours after Lee’s mother had unexpectedly died shortly after the AHS boys basketball team’s rout of Denver West in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament on Friday night.
“It made me really want to play. All day long I’ve just wanted to play. I knew I was going to play as hard as I could tonight,” Lee said after Saturday’s dramatic comeback win over Englewood that kept the Skiers’ undefeated season intact. “Basketball has been everything. I know she definitely would have wanted me to play and the first thing I really thought about was I’ve got to go win tomorrow.”
After Lee found out about his mother’s passing on Friday night, the entire AHS team rallied to his home and stayed with him well into the night. By Saturday’s 5 p.m. tipoff inside the AHS gymnasium, T-shirts had already been made and most of the town had already heard the news.
As the final minutes of Saturday’s game approached and it seemed Aspen was going to pull off the victory, chants of “Lucas” arose from the student section.
“It was a short-lived celebration (Friday), but when I got here today and I saw all of the shirts and everybody chanted ‘Lucas’, it was so cool. I kept looking for her in the crowd next to my dad,” Lee said. “It just shows, Aspen, it’s such a tight community. Word gets around quick, but everyone was here supporting me and that was really cool. I know my dad loved it.”
Lee’s play on Saturday wasn’t just inspiring, it was needed. As the tournament’s No. 3 seed and with a perfect record, Aspen faced the most on-court adversity it has all season when it could do little right early on against No. 14 seed Englewood. The Pirates held the Skiers to only seven points in the first quarter and led 22-15 at halftime.
The two Lees — Lucas and Porter, who are not related — played the best for the Skiers early on, but AHS didn’t seem to have any remedy for its own hiccups.
“No discredit to Englewood, but it was more of us being in our own heads and getting super, super nervous,” AHS coach Cory Parker said. “They responded really well, like they have been doing all season, really. They’ve responded to when they haven’t showed up.”
Photos: AHS basketball vs. Englewood
Aspen has been a team with a tendency to start slow before running away late, and that’s what happened against Englewood. AHS had tied the game at 30 each by the end of the third quarter and took over every aspect of the game in the fourth, putting the hammer down with a 21-8 outburst in the final frame to win 51-38.
Lucas Lee was in the middle of all of it from start to finish, including when the students stormed the court after the final whistle had blown.
“For him to show up like that, I wouldn’t expect anything different. The kid is the most passionate and emotional kid I’ve ever been around and worked with,” Parker said. “We are his family, 100%. These boys have been his family for the past several years. I knew he would want to be with his team. He would want to compete with his boys as much as possible. When we found out the news (Friday) night, we were all together and just the way he was speaking, you knew he wanted to hoop, you knew he wanted to play.”
The win sends Aspen, now 24-0 overall, into the state quarterfinals where it will face No. 6 Resurrection Christian on Thursday inside the University of Denver’s Hamilton Gym. Game time is tentatively set for 7 p.m. The semifinals are Friday and the championship game is Saturday.
The Skiers have never won a state championship in basketball, although they’ve been close on numerous occasions, most notably the 2009-10 team that reached 26-0 before losing in the championship game.
How this season ends is anyone’s guess. But the last sounds heard this winter from inside Aspen’s own gymnasium were the chants of “Lucas” and it leaves Lee with more inspiration than he could ever ask for heading into the final basketball games of his high school career.
“The end of the game, when they started chanting my name, I was having some trouble,” Lee said of keeping his emotions in check. “It’s just everything. I know she would want me to go win a state championship, so that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
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