What Grand Valley High School’s fab five is up to these days
A year ago they had just started practicing for what would be a benchmark season of Grand Valley basketball. Today they’re freshmen all over again.The five Cardinal seniors responsible for helping Class 2A Grand Valley to the school’s first-ever boys hoops state title in March have moved on with their post-high school lives, and basketball is now secondary for most.Organized ball isn’t even part of college life for Sam McKinley, who had hopes of walking on to the basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado. Unfortunately for McKinley, and any other UNC student hoping for a shot on the Bears’ hoops roster, the coaching staff decided at the last minute not to hold a walk-on tryout.”Yeah, it’s actually kind of disappointing,” said McKinley, a four-sport star at Grand Valley. “The coach didn’t give me a chance. It’s hard, but I try not to think about it. I’m in the weight room and gym every day, staying in shape.”McKinley is crossing his fingers that the UNC basketball program holds a tryout in spring, though he’s mulling other options. He wants to play basketball, and is considering a transfer to make that happen.”I still have a whole lot of thinking to do,” McKinley said. “I guess you could say I have a few schools to choose from. I’m going to look into it a little more.”In the meantime, he’s plugging along in his classes with an undeclared major and enjoying life in the dorms.”It’s going alright,” he said. “I don’t know. I’ve made a good group of friends. It’s been a pretty good time so far.”McKinley isn’t completely without basketball, though. He plays at UNC’s rec center whenever possible and plans to play intramural basketball next semester.
Organized ball wasn’t in the cards for Luke Braby either. Many thought the 6-foot-5 frontliner could parlay his talents into a spot on a small-school roster. He, along with fellow former Cardinals Richard Gallegos, Danny Manzanares and Mitch Belden, are all enrolled at Mesa State College in Grand Junction. Braby would have had to walk on at Mesa, but a full men’s hoop roster meant no open tryouts. No big deal, said the ex-Cardinal.”I didn’t really have any expectations as far as making the squad,” he said. “It would have been nice to play for them, but I know how it goes. If the state championship was my last game, I’ll be alright.”Real life has taken center stage for the witty Braby. He knew his skill level probably could have landed him with a junior college team or the like, but he already racked up significant scholastic college credit while in high school.”A JC didn’t make much sense for me,” he said. “I wanted to play ball, but to me college is something that affects the rest of my life. I had to make the best choice. I didn’t plan on my buddies going here, but it kind of worked out to be the right choice. I’m happy here.”Manzanares is playing a collegiate sport, but it’s football. The tiny but powerful running back whom Grand Valley football coach Mike Johnson once described as having a “pinball running style” redshirted this past season and hopes to be on the gridiron as a contributor this year. Manzanares misses basketball, but realizes those days are behind him.”Basketball was a lot of fun,” he said. “I wish I could still play all the sports I used to play, but there’s only one now.”Braby, Manzanares and Belden are all off-campus roommates at Mesa. Gallegos lives in the dorms. The four have more or less transformed Grand Junction into “Parachute West.””It’s going good,” Belden said of the roommate situation. “We all get along really well. No one gets mad at each other. We’ve all known each other for a long time. Luke moved (to Parachute) in middle school and Danny, Richard, Sam and I have known each other since elementary school.”McKinley keeps in touch with his old court mates by phone and via text message.
What these Grand Valley alums accomplished in their final year of high school – netting the school its first state title ever – will forever link them to Parachute history. And, some eight months later, the feat is still fresh on their minds.”Oh yeah,” Belden said. “Sometimes we put on highlight videos for basketball. I usually wear my ring to take tests for good luck.”To a man, the group formerly known as the Cardinals’ “fab five” find it a little weird that basketball season is starting and they’re not a part of it.”It is weird,” Gallegos said. “We still talk to some of the guys playing varsity. I’d say it’s definitely different without the high school team. We had been the face of Grand Valley High School three years.”
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