Glenwood trio of guards leading Demons at both ends of floor
Three seasons ago, Glenwood senior guards AJ Crowley and Aaron Smith were wide-eyed freshmen learning the ropes of varsity basketball for the Demons’ program. Junior guard Angel Garcia was a small eighth grader taking part in Glenwood camps.
Fast forward three years and it’s clear how important the trio of guards is to Glenwood’s success at both ends of the floor under veteran Head Coach Cory Hitchcock. Brick by brick, the trio of guards have helped build on the foundation that was set in place those three seasons ago.
Now, Crowley and Smith have played roles in three championships in four years, while Garcia is up to two championships in three seasons. Crowley and Smith learned firsthand what it takes to be champions under former players such as Cameron Horning, Will Gray, Zack Peterson and Brian Burbridge. Through that experience, they learned what it takes to completely buy into the program. A terrific junior class led by Garcia has set the Demons up for great success moving forward.
A lot of that starts with selflessness and leadership, which ooze out of the standout trio.
“In 2014, that year was the year that we really had the culture changed for the program,” Hitchcock said. “Aaron and AJ were in middle school then and came in and saw that buy-in, and they’ve done nothing but come in since then and lay down bricks to build on that foundation for this program.
“These two guys are a tremendous asset to our basketball program, and a lot of that comes from leadership,” he added. “When Angel landed on varsity as a freshman, he [became] part of that leadership and has grown each year into that role.
“These guys are dedicated and don’t miss camps, open gyms, anything with this program. It runs on down through the rest of the program because of the example that these guys set.”
Known largely for their scoring output in Glenwood’s high-octane attack, the trio is underrated when it comes to defense. Sure, scoring is the name of the game in basketball, and all three do it well. Combined, they score roughly 56 percent of Glenwood’s points each night.
But all three take pride in defense, allowing the Demons to clamp down on opponents nightly. They have allowed 60 points or more just five times this season, resulting in a second straight league championship for the Demons.
“It’s been great this year, because last year I kind of had to guard the best player each night,” Crowley said prior to a recent game in Glenwood. “This year, we’ve incorporated more switches defensively, which is great for Aaron and I, because we have so many defensive responsibilities. It’s been great for us because we can switch and feel comfortable with any guy on the floor guarding anyone they have on the floor.”
It wasn’t always this way for the Demons, especially Garcia, who came into the varsity known more as a scorer than a stopper. He’s ripped that label off this year, developing into one of the best perimeter defenders the Demons have on the roster. That allows Hitchcock to not only deploy a three-guard starting lineup for offense but also feel confident in the smaller lineup handling their business defensively.
“Defense has been the biggest growth for me,” Garcia said. “This year I’m actually playing defense, whereas in years past I was just sort of going through the motions. Coach is always stressing the importance of defense, and once I really listened to him about defense, things started to come together for me. I wasn’t playing well in the spring, and coach kept saying it was defense. So once I saw it click, things just took off for me.”
That transformation from being just a scorer to a complete player started in the summer at Colorado Mesa University’s basketball camp, in which the Demons competed. Garcia’s transformation has played a key role in the Demons averaging nearly 10 steals per game, allowing the run-and-gun Glenwood bunch to get up and down the floor quickly in transition and put teams away in the process.
“When these guys came into the program, we were preaching to them about defense,” Hitchcock said. “They were never really forced to play defense early in their careers, but defense is our mantra here. When you play defense, it takes care of everything else. When we got these guys to finally buy into the defensive end, you see their game really taking another step. And by that happening, you see other guys on the roster buy into playing defense.”
The Demons are known in the state more for their offensive style, which features a lot of off-ball movement, 3-pointers and transition buckets. But Glenwood is one of the top defensive teams in the area largely due to discipline and want-to.
They’re a tough team to play, because they can shut you down defensively while also being able to roll out a number of players who can fill up the stat sheet offensively. Although all three average 12 points per game, none of the three hunt their own shots or look to pad their stats. That forces defenses to really choose who they want to focus on, which in turn leaves others open.
“It’s a lot of fun to not only play with these guys, but play in this system,” Smith said. “You can’t truly focus on one guy in hopes of stopping us as a team, because we have a ton of guys out there that can hurt you. It opens up so much room. We’re always a fast-paced team, so in order to be successful in each game, we try to get at least 15 points in transition in each game. That helps us combat the size disadvantage we have at times.”
“For us, we couldn’t ask for a better situation, as far as our brand and our style of basketball,” Crowley said. “We’re all mostly quick, short and love to run and get shots up. It couldn’t be more fun for us.”
Putting it all together
Despite having three terrific scorers and a ton of depth, the team has yet to see all three go off in the same game. That can be balanced scoring, but it can also be frustrating for Hitchcock and his staff.
“They have all had their turns to fill up the stats sheet for us and lead us in scoring, but I just can’t wait to see — I know it’s coming — when all three of these guys are going to be hot on the same night,” Hitchcock said. “It’s going to be fun to watch. I’m just blessed to be able to coach these guys, because they make it easy and fun.”
A tight-knit unit on and off the floor, the Demons look to close out the regular season perfect in 4A Western Slope League play as they host the rival Rifle Bears tonight inside Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium for Senior Night. Despite having a league championship already locked up, the trio wants to make sure the Demons finish off the season undefeated in league play before then hopefully making a deep run in the state playoffs.
“We started out with the goal of winning league, and as the season went on we focused on one game at a time to make sure we won it,” Smith said. “To win it outright this year is amazing, especially to finish it like this for my senior year. We for sure want to finish undefeated in league play, and from there we’ll continue to take it one game at a time. Hopefully that results in a deep state playoff run.”
Glenwood tips off with Rifle at 7:30 p.m. tonight for the final regular season game of the year.