Chris Valdez knew this winter he’d have to instruct and mold one of the more raw batches of talent Ignacio High School boys basketball had seen in quite a while.
But one ingredient he looked forward to utilizing was sophomore post Bryce Finn.
“He worked his butt off all summer, he really did. He’d been in the gym every day working on his shot and working on his quickness; he’d lost tons of weight and was so much faster,” the Bobcat skipper recalled early in the season. “The kid could be a 25-point kid.”
As it turned out, Valdez, who this past week was named the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League’s Coach of the Year after his unusual blend of ballers managed to go 10-10 overall but 9-2 against the full loop in regular-season play, was not far off in his initial prediction of Finn’s per-game production.
Held to single-digit scoring just once, by 3A Bayfield on Jan. 5 at the Southwest Classic, during the 2018-19 campaign, Finn ably operated near the basket but showed even more potent promise far from it, as his 3-point shooting helped him total 319 points, or just under 16 per game.
He was named First Team All-SJBL, along with sophomore guard Triston Thompson.
Thompson totaled a reported 190 points during his first season at IHS, averaging 9.5 per game. Joining the duo as First Team All-SJBL selections from the circuit’s 2A side, to nobody’s surprise, were Mancos junior Caden Showalter and freshman Connor Showalter, and Dolores senior Tristen Swagerty.
Behind its prolific brother duo, Mancos (17-8) won the 2A District 3 Tournament title, conquered the Region 6 Tournament and advanced to the CHSAA state championships in Loveland where its season ended with back-to-back losses to Holly and Limon. Dolores, meanwhile, finished 11-11 after a blowout loss to Sanford in the Region 5 Tournament semifinals.
Representing the SJBL’s Class 1A crews as first team honorees were Ouray senior Scout Manley and sophomore Jackson Leo, Norwood senior J.D. Brantingham and Dove Creek senior Ryan Martinez.
Earning Second Team All-League from Ignacio was junior forward/center Ocean Hunter. About as blue-collar a Bobcat as Valdez could ask for, Hunter totaled 124 points in 17 games played – he missed three during December – for an average of 7.3 per game but often equaled or exceeded that norm in rebounds, a figure most crucial to the boss.
“He’s our strongest guy, has way better hands in the post where if somebody hits him he ain’t going to drop it,” said Valdez. “And Ocean can score; he can go outside and shoot those shots too, but he’s so unselfish.
Also named Second Team All-SJBL (2A) were Mancos senior Vassar Stephens and freshman Chase Moore, Dolores senior Dakota Smith and Telluride senior Robert Cooney. From the league’s 1A side, second team status went to Ouray senior Griffin Holifield and junior Channing Green, Norwood senior Levi Stropko and Nucla sophomore Tyler Wytulka.
Honorable Mention all-league nods went to Norwood junior Cael Spangler, Ridgway junior Byrd Williams, Telluride junior Kaden Katz and Dolores sophomore Will Swagerty.