Thompson and Salinas leading charge for Rams | PostIndependent.com

Thompson and Salinas leading charge for Rams

Roaring Fork senior Justin Thompson, left, and junior Joe Salinas have quietly put together monstrous years for the Roaring Fork Rams in Carbondale.

Together, Roaring Fork senior Justin Thompson and junior Joe Salinas have quietly put together monstrous years for the Roaring Fork Rams in Carbondale.

As a lethal 1-2 combination under head coach Larry Williams, the two towering, athletic forwards have played an integral role in leading the Rams (14-2, 5-1 3A WSL) to an outstanding season, which has led to hopes for a deep state playoff run.

While Thompson (20.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 assist) and Salinas (14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.5 steals) receive the accolades for the Rams, they're two very humble student-athletes away from the game who devote a ton of time to their craft. The key with the two stars is the leadership and togetherness that they bring to a tight-knit group in Carbondale.

"I love this group of guys," Thompson said prior to a recent Roaring Fork practice last week. "The talent is definitely here. We work together well and hang out a lot outside of the game. I think that helps us play well together as a team."

Role guys like Oscar Miranda, Aidan Sloan, Irving Anchondo and Ronald Clemente certainly have importance to the Rams' success, but this Roaring Fork group goes as Thompson and Salinas goes. For the most part this season, the duo has clicked on all cylinders, often taking turns playing the starring role. For two forwards with size and skills like Thompson and Salinas have, they play off of each other well, spacing the floor and creating open looks for not only each other but other teammates, as well.

"We've put in so much work these last few years, so it's nice to be recognized," Salinas said. "It's fun to be able to play with a guy like Justin, as well as the rest of this team. But Justin is something else to watch.

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"Honestly, we're not a super big team, but with Joe and me, we can work together inside and outside," Thompson added. "We work well together and it makes it that much harder for opposing defenses to key in on one of us."

Over the last two years, the duo has seen their games grow tremendously under the watchful eye of Williams and his staff. During the 2016-17 season, Thompson and Salinas flashed their potential at times, but this season the two have taken their games to new heights, carrying the Rams' program with them.

That's a testament to the hard work and dedication to the sport they both have, even if Salinas picked up the game late.

In eighth grade, Salinas started playing basketball on a whim, thanks to Miranda and Clemente. Playing with those two on the blacktops in Carbondale led to Salinas' development as a skilled big man in the paint and beyond the perimeter. To hear Salinas talk about it, that development was almost out of necessity.

"Playing with Ronald and Oscar, we'd be playing outside all day, so I had to develop some skills, "Salinas said. "I couldn't be a guy that just stood in the post playing pickup basketball, so I had to develop my outside game to help me play in those games."

Thanks to those games early in his career playing pickup with friends, Salinas can now bang with the best of them down low in the paint, dominate the glass as a rebounder and even step out to hit the 3-pointer consistently. While Salinas brings the flashy skill at times, Thompson is the junkyard dog for this group, even if he is the most skilled of the bunch.

Heart, hustle and determination are huge factors in Thompson's game as the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder for the Rams. Whether he's getting into the paint for tough shots through contact or soaring high for dunks late in games, Thompson's reaping the benefits of the hard work he's put in over the last three seasons on varsity under Williams.

"The year I'm having is because of the work I put in during the offseason, putting all my energy and focus during free time into basketball," Thompson said. "I've been working on the parts of my game that I didn't think were very good and trying to make them better over the years. I take a lot of pride in what I'm doing this year; I'll do whatever it takes to lead this team to a win, whether it's putting the ball in the basket or finding an open teammate."

Due to his efforts this season, Thompson should be a contender for 3A Western Slope League Player of the Year honors, as well as possible state recognition from the Colorado High School Activities Association.

But for now, the senior is focused on finishing his final season strong playing with Salinas and the rest of the group. The Rams are currently one game back of the Coal Ridge Titans in the 3A WSL standings with one week left to go in the regular season, while also sitting No. 15 in the RPI standings, which would mean the Rams would hit the road for the regional tournament of the state playoffs.

That doesn't seem to affect Thompson's or Salinas' state of mind when it comes to this group of players and their ceiling as a team. They know they can play with the best of them, but for now they're just enjoying the ride, not getting too high or too low after each game.

"The RPI is kind of hurting us right now, but we're just going to let our games prove it and see where we're at," Thompson said. "I'm just looking forward to playing with these guys for the remaining games that I have, because I'm not going to get to do it forever. Hopefully, we can get some good wins here and play well."

The Rams will travel to Vail Christian on Tuesday night for a nonconference game against the Saints, before traveling to Cedaredge on Friday night to take on the Bruins in a 3A Western Slope League tilt. Roaring Fork will close the season Saturday evening against Aspen in Carbondale for Senior Night.