By ELWOOD K. SHELTON
Daily Press writer
Whoever said the Front Range is the only place that can play ball certainly never competed against the Craig eighth-grade boys AAU team.
The team placed fourth in Saturday's Mullen tournament in Denver composed primarily of teams from the Denver Metro area.
The team dropped only two of six games, losing to Chaparral and Denver Metro.
Denver Metro is a composite team, made up of eighth-graders heading to Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Manual High Schools all known in state for their basketball prowess.
"Heading into the tournament, I knew we were going to do well," coach Jim Duran said. "The boys are just a hard playing, good team."
The eighth-graders traveled to the tournament because of the lack of competition on the Western Slope.
In the middle school season, the team was undefeated, often beating opponents by as much as 60 points.
The Mullen tournament, however, provided an opportunity for the boys to match up against more competitive teams.
"It really felt like a state tournament, every team playing was good," eighth-grader Lincoln Cleverly said. "We have big enough guys that we were able to play against the Denver teams, who were all big."
Besides having two six-foot plus players on the team, the eighth-graders have found success because of the amount of time they have spent together.
All 10 of the eighth-graders have been playing basketball together since the fifth grade.
"We all have a feel for one another," Cleverly said. "You end up studying how your teammates play, and you know what they're going to do."
The extensive court time the boys have shared with one another has created a cohesion that is rarely found at this level of basketball, Duran said.
"The boys have played so much ball together that they know each other inside-out," he said. "They absolutely love the game. If they aren't on the court with each other, then they're in the weightroom working out."
The boys' dedication to the sport is demonstrated in the sheer volume of games they play more than 50 each year.
The number of games may cause some to worry about the eighth-grader endurance in the sport, but their coach doesn't worry.
"These guys are the ones who want to play, and they just don't get burned out," Duran said. "If they aren't playing, they get bored."