When he became Valor Christian’s boys basketball coach last summer, Ronnie DeGray realized a name change was necessary for his version of the style of play Nolan Richardson made famous at Arkansas.
For obvious reasons, 40 Minutes of Hell wasn’t a good fit.
The compromise: 32 Minutes of Christian Spirit.
“We really get after it on the defensive end,’’ DeGray said last week. “The kids dive on the floor, take charges, talk about defensive rotation. And on the offensive end, the kids play well together, make the extra pass, set good screens.
“It’s a style of basketball that wherever we play, (opponents) know they’ve been in a battle every game.’’
It’s also a style that is producing victories at a high rate. Despite a late coaching change, the offseason transfer of one of the stars from last year’s Class 4A Final Four team and playing most of this season without one of its top players due to injury, the Eagles carry a 15-2 record and a No. 1 Class 4A ranking into this week’s play along with a goal of capturing the program’s first state championship.
“We like the theme of unfinished business,’’ junior Chase Foster said, referring to Valor’s three-point loss to Lewis-Palmer in last year’s semifinals.
DeGray, a former University of Colorado player and a first-year high school coach, has held the Eagles together after a rocky summer that saw them lose their three-year head coach, Steve Rotello, who guided them to a 23-3 record last season (63-14 overall), and 6-8 center/forward Austin Sparks, who transferred to Fairview for his senior year after averaging 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds. Sparks and senior Max McCaffrey were second-team 4A selections by the Denver Post last year.
On top of that, Christian McCaffrey, who averaged 11.7 points as a sophomore, has not played since he badly sprained his right ankle in practice on Dec. 21. McCaffrey averaged 17.0 points in five games prior to the injury.
DeGray came to Valor as CEO of the Chauncey Billups Elite Basketball Academy, where he coached basically the same group of players from their fourth grade to ninth grade. A two-year player at CU (he played with Billups on the 1997 NCAA Tournament team and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 in `98 before playing in Europe for six years), the 6-7 DeGray also is Sports Coordinator for the City and County of Denver.
Reluctant when he first learned from friends at Valor of the opening in July, DeGray eventually applied after meeting with athletic director Rod Sherman and his assistant, Brian Kula, and was hired around the start of the school year.
“That was one of the things I had worried about, how serious they were about the basketball situation,’’ DeGray said. “I knew coming in - really, the middle of September - you only had about a month to get ready for the basketball season.
“I didn’t think I had enough time to put my system in, my style of play, before our first game. But it’s a testament to the team and how hard they’ve been working and believe in what I’m working on with them.’’
Foster played in Billups’ academy in the eighth grade and got to know DeGray. “We got the right-fit coach,’’ Foster said. “We love our new coach and we’re happy to have him.’’
As for DeGray’s system, Foster said, “It took a little getting used to, but right from the beginning we had a pretty good sense of how it was going to be.’’
DeGray is hopeful of having the 5-11 McCaffrey back by the end of the regular season, if not the playoffs. “We go 10-12 deep because of the way we play and the guards have picked up the slack (in McCaffrey’s absence),’’ DeGray said, noting the trio of Luke Proctor, Paden Mueller and Tristan Trujillo have stepped up, along with starting point guard Marcus Wilson.