2016PresDayCampHighlands Ranch (CO) – Per usual when Highlands Ranch rivals collide it was standing room only when Rock Canyon took the short 5-mile trip to match up with ThunderRidge in a top 10 match-up.

Coming into the year ThunderRidge was expected to be one the states top teams, while Rock Canyon was expected to be in rebuilding mode after the departure of guards Mitch Lombard and Tyler Garcia. Behind the coaching of Kent Grams, pesky team defense and the playmaking and leadership of sophomore point guard Sam Masten Rock Canyon has been a mainstay in the top 10 rankings and entered the week at 14 – 2.

The first quarter went back and forth, feeding off of the boisterous student sections both teams were active and aggressive on defense, which made it difficult for either team to score. With points being difficult to come by ThunderRidge played through 6’8 senior Clay Verk. Verk responded with 7 first quarter points. Rock Canyon’s first quarter scoring was more balanced and their half court motion offense allowed them to match Verk and ThunderRidge. At the end of the first Rock Canyon led 11 – 10.

The second was just as tight. Masten was more of a facilitator in the first quarter, but in the second began to look to score. He opened the quarter with a three pointer to give the Jaguars a 14 – 10 lead. Rock Canyon followed that up with a basket by Isaac

Hirsch to push the lead out to 6 points. Senior forward Austin Mueller responded with a three for ThunderRidge to pull to within 3 points, but Matsen responded with 4 straight points, which gave Rock Canyon a 20 – 13 advantage. After scoring on a reverse pivot step back jump shot from the elbow Clay Verk then converted on an and-1 basket to close the gap to 18 -22 with 2:27 remaining. Verk finished with 6 points in the second and Matsen finished with 9. Rock Canyon led 23 – 21 at the half.

Masten started the third quarter going 0 for 4 from the field, while ThunderRidge appeared to get into an offensive rhythm. Kaison Hammonds hit Corey Seng for a transition lay up and Verk followed that up with another and-1 finish. Behind Verk’s three point play ThunderRidge claimed the lead 28 – 25. Rock Canyon quickly responded Masten connected with Noah Beck for a transition basket and then Matsen curled off of a screen for a layup to reclaim the lead. Collin Rardin crashed the boards and beat the buzzer on an offensive rebound put back to give Rock Canyon a six-point lead and all of the momentum as the third quarter concluded.

Matsen opened the 4th quarter by single handedly breaking the press and finishing at the rim. He then drew a foul on a down hill drive and converted both free throws, which gave Rock Canyon a 40 – 31 lead with 5:34 remaining. Just as it appeared Rock Canyon was going to pull away Troy Brady of ThunderRidge drilled a contested corner three to pull to within 6 points. Sophomore point guard Kaison Hammonds then scored and was fouled, but could not convert the free throw. ThunderRidge was down just 4 points at 40 – 36 with 2:34 remaining.

With 40 seconds remaining Austin Mueller converted on a three pointer to reduce the lead to just one point at 42 – 41. In a strange sequence of events Rock Canyon was forced into a timeout to avoid a 5 second call, then a jump ball in which they retained possession and then a turnover. ThunderRidge could not convert and with 16 seconds remaining Hirsh stepped to the line and buried both free throws to give Rock Canyon a 44 – 41 lead. ThunderRidge had one last attempt to send the game into overtime, but failed to convert and Rock Canyon’s student section exploded on to the court as the final buzzer went off to celebrate perhaps the biggest win in program history.

Masten led all scorers with 19 points. Hirsh finished with 9 for Rock Canyon. Clay Verk scored 16 for ThunderRidge, but only had three in the second half. Rock Canyon is now 16 – 2 and undefeated in league play, they now have a huge midweek matchup with Regis who is also undefeated in league play.

The grasshopper prevails – Rock Canyon head coach would never say it, but it has to be quite rewarding for him to finally defeat his mentor Joe Ortiz. Grams served as an assistant for Ortiz prior to coaching at Rock Canyon.

Sam Masten secret to success – While just a sophomore, Sam is already one the better players in the state. Masten is beginning to make a name for himself, but Matsen’s success is no surprise to those who know him. Matsen is a tireless worker. Along with daily practice Matsen goes through a 6AM game speed-shooting workouts at Chauncey Billups basketball facility where Matsen trains year round.

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Sam Masten (L) pictured with Jimmer Fredette after a summer shooting workout. Jimmer has developed into a basketball mentor for Masten.

Masten isn’t short on mentors either. During the off-season he routinely trains with Chauncey Billups, Jimmer Fredette, Eric Garcia and Josh Perkins. They all have developed a big brother/little brother relationship with Matsen. In fact, Fredette donated a Dr. Dish shooting machine to the facility. Masten has taken full advantage of the shooting machine and credits that for his shooting success. Even though Jimmer is in the middle of his own season he still keeps tabs on his young protégé. “Sam is a great kid that does things the right way, he deserves success, because he puts in the work.” Jimmer Fredette


About the Blogger: Nick Graham is the director of basketball for Chauncey Billups D1 Basketball in Highlands Ranch. Graham, who played collegiately at Washington State University trains basketball players of all ages and skill levels including many of the states top high school and collegiate players along with NBA players as well. In addition, Nick travels the country working with some of the nations top prep players. Along with leading D1 Basketball Training nationally, he also works with Spalding and many of the top trainers in the country including Johnny “Handle Life” Stephene. Through his partnership with Spalding Nick will travel to the 2016 NBA All Star game to provide youth players in the Toronto community with NBA All star training along with Stephene. Also, Nick and Stephene will lead regional All American camps this summer with D1 Basketball, Spalding and NBA players Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony amongst others. Nick’s passion is assisting Chauncey Billups in mentoring, developing and celebrating the young players and coaches along with educating and empowering parents of basketball players all over Colorado.

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Find out more about Chauncey Billups Basketball Training with Nick Graham @ D1sportsbball.com/Denver