New Castle’s Cox cobbles talented team
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Having grown up in the basketball hotbed that is Indiana, Mike Cox knows the importance of summer ball. And so that’s what he’s providing a group of the area’s top high school basketball players.
Players like Connor Riley, Dakota Stonehouse, Kevin Screen, Jordan Ciani and Russell Collins from Glenwood Springs High School or Alex Klein, Andy Smedra and Rafa Febela from Coal Ridge.
Aspen, Vail Christian and Moffat County high schools are even represented on a traveling boys summer-league squad that Cox cobbled together for a summer of skill building and competition.
Playing under the moniker 4 Seasons Basketball, a name shared by the now-on-hiatus hoops school operated by Cox, the all-star bunch meets once a week for practice and travels to tournaments on weekends.
Landing a spot on the team is simple enough: Players must love basketball and be blessed in the character department.
“It’s real simple,” said Cox, the former boys basketball coach at Coal Ridge. “You’ve got to be a good kid. I don’t care what kind of talent you have. You’ve got to love to play the game and be a good, coachable kid. The second thing is your parents have to understand what I’m doing. These guys come out here, have fun and they work hard.”
As Cox proudly boasts, no one on the team has a grade-point average below 3.5.
Smarts aside, the 4 Seasons group is piecing things together on the basketball court. A trip to the Mid American Youth Basketball (MAYB) Mister Basketball Tournament in Kearney, Neb., yielded a third-place finish.
Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and Biokats tourneys have also graced 4 Seasons’ travel itinerary, with stops in places like Denver and Boulder already in the bag and treks to Loveland, Wyoming, Kansas and elsewhere in the offing.
“It’s really nice seeing the competition and stuff, just playing different teams,” said Screen, a point guard for Glenwood during the prep season.
And the competition has been high caliber. Cox recalled his first glimpse of the tourney field in Nebraska.
“I walked into the gym and thought, ‘Oh my God, we may be in a little bit of trouble,'” he said. “It reminded me of Indiana basketball, just solid, fundamental play and man-to-man defense. I was watching our guys and some of them had bug eyes.”
But awe didn’t stop Cox’s team from taking third and amassing confidence.
“Just as soon as they took the floor, they played really well together as a team and won,” Cox said. “They won some big games.”
For a team composed of players that are more accustomed to playing against each other than with each other, they’ve jelled rather seamlessly.
“We’ve all kind of meshed together,” said Andrew Papenfus, a junior-to-be at Aspen High School. “For a couple practices, it was awkward, but on the car ride down to the first tournament, that’s when things clicked.”
“It’s been good to get to know them,” said Papenfus’ Aspen teammate, Matthew Holmes. “It’s a little weird playing with guys like Andy [Smedra] and Alex [Klein]. I’m used to playing against them.”
Most 4 Seasons players have their hands full with other summer commitments, be it leagues or camps run by their respective high school basketball teams. Some are busy with other sports, like football.
With that in mind, Cox applies a lax approach to practice and tournament attendance. He has a roster of 14 and typically takes the first eight who express interest to whatever tournament’s on the schedule.
So far, so good.
“I’m putting no pressure on these guys to come to practice,” Cox said. “Like Dakota [Stonehouse]. He wants to go to Loveland with us, but he is really busy. I’m leaving it open to him if he wants to play. Mike Peters from Moffat County, he went to the first one with us, but he hasn’t come back yet because all June they’re working on team stuff.”
If athletes hope to play college basketball, summer play is a necessity, Cox stresses. Not only because heavily attended tournaments expose players to levels of competition they don’t always see with their high school teams, but because they offer just another chance to be spotted by college coaches.
“If that’s their dream, playing in college, it’ll help make it happen,” Cox noted.
And it’s high time the Western Slope starts building up its summer hoops presence, the longtime coach stressed. Often players catch on with Denver-based teams, which is far from ideal logistically.
“We need something like this,” he said. “We’re giving them an opportunity to play here. We’re going to similar tournaments as Chaos [a team based in Denver]. Maybe this could grow into something.”
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This game. This rivalry. This season. It hasn’t meant this much in a long time.