Gonzalez’s offensive fireworks leads Demons into state playoffs | PostIndependent.com

Gonzalez’s offensive fireworks leads Demons into state playoffs

Glenwood Springs senior guard Chano Gonzalez leaps through the air to make the layup during a home game against the Eagle Valley Devils at Glenwood Springs High School earlier this season.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Glenwood Springs senior guard Chano Gonzalez is a young man of very few words. When talking with him in person, it’s hard to get more than two words out of the shy, quiet guard. But on the floor, Gonzalez lets his play do the talking, 2 ­— and sometimes 3 — points at a time.

Down the stretch in the midst of Glenwood’s run in which it won 16 of 17 games to clinch a share of a third straight 4A Western Slope League championship, Gonzalez scored more than 20 points in four of the last five games. For the season, Gonzalez averaged 15.6 points in his first season as a starter, all while shooting 53 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3-point range, according to maxpreps.com.

“I knew this was my last season and my last real chance to show what I could do,” said the reserved Gonzalez. “It made me work harder in the offseason to not only show what I could do, but also to step up alongside guys like Angel [Garcia] and Kevin [Ayon] in the backcourt and help this team succeed.”

Despite stepping into a starter’s role for the first time in his four-year varsity career, Gonzalez’s success hasn’t been much of a surprise to his teammates or first-year head coach Fred Heisel, who coached Gonzalez in seventh grade basketball prior to this season. In his final five games of the season, Gonzalez went for 26 points against Rifle, 20 against Eagle Valley, 19 against Steamboat Springs, 26 against Battle Mountain, and 22 against Palisade, including the game-winning basket with 12 seconds left against the rival Bulldogs with the league championship on the line.

“Before the season started, we all talked to him and told him he needed to step up as a scorer,” said Kevin Ayon, a fellow Glenwood senior and close friend of Gonzalez’s. “We all believed in him. This run he’s been on, we saw his mindset really change. He’s come off thinking he can beat anyone, and he does that. He plays the way he practices. He’s in attack mode all practice long, and that carries over to the game. I don’t think anyone can guard him when he’s locked in like this.”

Really, all of the senior guard’s success this season is the hard work he’s put in throughout his time at the varsity level, Heisel said. Along with that hard work, Gonzalez’s energy on the floor has led to a lot of his success, according to Heisel.

“I’m just so happy for the kid,” Heisel said. “I knew this was coming; you could just see that talent within him, even as a seventh-grader. Seeing a competitor like him working for something for so long, and then getting rewarded for it is just incredible. I just feel so happy for him.”

Heisel specifically remembers a moment in Steamboat Springs earlier in the season in which Gonzalez and Steamboat sophomore guard Jake Kreissing started to trade 3-pointers. The first-year Glenwood head coach said he never thought about shutting down the 1-on-1 play between the two in the midst of the game because he trusted Gonzalez to do the right thing. That says a lot about a first-year starter at the varsity level.

“After he hit his second three, he ran back down and looked at the bench, and I just knew I had the stupidest grin on my face,” Heisel said. “I just felt so good for him. He’s earned this; he’s had all these accolades coming because of the commitment to this program and the work that he’s put in.”

Aside from his success this season at the offensive end, Gonzalez has played a pivotal role for a suffocating Glenwood press, while also drawing the assignment of guarding the opponent’s top player on a nightly basis. That can be hard to do for a player at any level of basketball, but Gonzalez takes on the role of lead scorer and top defender with enthusiasm that he shows only on the court.

“We wouldn’t be running the press if we didn’t have kids like Chano,” Heisel said. “It goes without saying with our group, too, that in pre-game, if I’m talking about the most dangerous player on the other team, all eyes go to Chano because he’s going to have to match up with that guy to start the game.”

Heisel was quick to point out that the Demons have a three-headed monster on defense with senior Wyatt Ewer and junior Mitchell Burt in the fray, but Gonzalez has been the lead dog and has finished off turnovers at the other end with a layup in transition, fitting Glenwood’s fast-paced attack.

While he’s put up monster numbers offensively lately, letting his game do all the talking, Gonzalez is a quiet assassin that would rather lead by example, rather than vocally. That leadership and example set isn’t just affecting the varsity program; it’s filtering its way down to the elementary school level.

Heisel told a story about a young first-grader who was shooting around in the gym during school hours and said he was mimicking Chano’s playing style. The young boy lives in Gonzalez’s neighborhood and wants to be just like him in a Demon uniform one day. For Heisel, that invoked memories of his childhood and looking up to the state championship teams in the 1970s that he followed closely.

That is as small-town as it gets, and what you watch in movies and read about in novels about high school days. Gonzalez might not know it yet, but his work ethic, playing style and general personality on the floor is leaving a profound impact not only on his teammates who will be here next year but also on the community as a whole, especially the younger generations.

“To see him go from a raw seventh-grader who was transitioning from soccer, to seeing what he is now as a senior, it’s remarkable,” Heisel said. “It just goes to show what hard work and dedication can do for you, especially when you do things right and are focused on one goal.”

Now, Gonzalez has one goal in mind, not only for himself, but for his teammates as well: getting past the first playoff game. Part of a loaded senior class that has won three straight league titles and has helped keep Glenwood’s long-standing history of high-caliber boys basketball teams going, the Demons have struggled to make a deep run into the state playoffs.

The Demons will have a chance to advance to the third round of the state playoffs Saturday at home as the No. 7 Demons take on the No. 26 Golden Demons inside Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium at 3 p.m.

With Gonzalez possessing the hot hand at the moment, the time could be ripe for that deep run for the red and white.

jcarney@postindependent.com


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