Paul Klee: Lewis-Palmer ends season with loss, and lesson, in Class 4A state title game
DENVER - You could say Lewis-Palmer's season ended with a loss. And that part's true.
You could also say it ended with a bounce pass. That's how I saw it end. I saw it end with a selfless pass through traffic - from a Lewis-Palmer guard who was smothered to a Lewis-Palmer guard who was open - because that's how Lewis-Palmer does things. It ended in the same way so many other brilliant Lewis-Palmer possessions ended, with an unselfish act from one very good player to another very good player. Together they made something great.
"Pretty special group," boys' basketball coach Bill Benton said.
Then he apologized. He apologized for crying. He apologized for breaking down. Really, the rest of us should be the ones who are sorry - sorry that Lewis-Palmer's improbable season is over. It ended, officially, Saturday afternoon, with a 68-55 defeat to Valor Christian in the Class 4A state championship game. It ended with Lewis-Palmer trudging through the concrete relic that is Denver Coliseum with a runner-up trophy and totally bummed out.
They shouldn't be.
Before we go further I should be clear: I loathe these kinds of columns, the kind where everybody played hard, everybody deserved to win, everybody should get their name in the paper, yada, yada. So here: Lewis-Palmer didn't deserve to win. Valor was better at four of five positions, at least, and on the bench. Valor deserved another state title, this time in boys basketball, its first of that variety. Valor was better.
But - and this is not an insignificant but - Lewis-Palmer was the kind of high school team that shouldn't trudge through the concrete underbelly totally bummed out. Lewis-Palmer was the kind of team - "It's not one individual," as sophomore Joel Scott put it - that other teams in Colorado should copycat. Valor is the 1 percent, blessed up and down the roster with Division I athletes.
Lewis-Palmer is more like the rest of us. Lewis-Palmer was good because of that bounce pass, from one unselfish player to another unselfish player, that flips the court into an even playing field.
"We don't have that All-Star. We don't have that stud. We have five solid basketball players that play as a team," senior guard Drew Blomberg said.
Lewis-Palmer (24-5) had a puncher's chance against Valor (25-4), but only because the Rangers will punch back. Valor's frontcourt went 6-foot-6 (Kayle Knuckles with 32 points), 6-5 (Jalen Sanders, 18 points and eight rebounds) and 6-5 (Dylan McCaffrey, who barely played due to foul trouble but is going to play quarterback at Michigan, so, yeah). Lewis-Palmer didn't have that size. It didn't have that Big Ten pedigree. It had four losses by the first week of January.
But what it had was Scott, powering into the thick of Valor's trees for a three-point play. It has Billy "Ballgame" Cook, who's yet to run from a challenge. It has Blomberg (13 points) and Angelo Battistelli (12), guys who would be good elsewhere but were great for Lewis-Palmer.
Tell you what else Lewis-Palmer has. It has an exceptional coach. It has a coach, Benton, who doesn't do the most annoying and counterproductive thing a coach can do - micromanage. Benton teaches during the week and empowers during the game. Benton's guys play with disciplined freedom. It's the only way they would've gotten this far.
Don't believe me? Ask my high school coach - Dick Katte, the Denver Christian icon whose 876 wins are the most in state history - what he thinks about it.
"Very well-coached," Katte said after the game. "Disciplined, fun team to watch."
Lewis-Palmer's season opened with five new starters and without a Division I basketball recruit on the roster. In between were a bunch of practices ("It wasn't even a low-maintenance team; it was a no-maintenance team," Benton said), film sessions ("I trusted them," he said) and things like hard cuts and smart defense that basketball junkies love. It ended in the state title game with a bounce pass, and a loss, but mostly a bounce pass.