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Eagle Valley boys head to 4A state basketball tournament amidst banner year

18-5 Devils earned a first round bye as the no. 15 seed and co-league champs

In his fourth year at the helm, Justin Brandt has led the Eagle Valley boys basketball team to an 18-5 record and first round bye in the 4A state tournament.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

Contextualizing the 2022 Eagle Valley boys basketball banner season requires a mini history lesson.

In 1984-1985, fourth year coach Dave Scott led the Devils to a 23-0 record and the Class A-1 state title. 27 years later, Brent McConaghy guided the 2011-2012 team to an 18-6 record, the school’s first league title since 1999, and its first state tournament appearance since 2002. After McConaghy left for Reno, Nevada, the 2012-2013 squad returned to state, winning a first round game against Erie before falling to the no. 1 seeded D’Evelyn in a heartbreaking loss.

Current head coach Justin Brandt was a part of two of those journeys, joining the Devils as an assistant in 2006. Four years ago, he took the helm, and the first class he’s shepherded all the way through has delivered a special campaign. “It’s been really cool to have that relationship with them for so long,” he said. Unsurprisingly, Brandt, whose mature sideline presence ought to be noted by at least a few NCAA Big Ten coaches, didn’t jump right to wins and losses. For the coach whos personna is one you can only hope your own kids are lucky enough to play under, it’s always been about relationships.



Even though his team has more than a few players who could be “the guy,” Brandt has fostered a culture of unselfishness where athletes aren’t focused on the stat sheet. It’s an intentional decision he’s implemented on the shoulders of his entire staff, which tracks advanced metrics like defensive gaps and transition points so the team can acknowledge those elements in the post-game locker room, too

“When this team can really celebrate the non-scorebook factors, it’s super huge,” Brandt said, noting that alumnus Keegan Garby, a manager for both Eagle Valley and Colorado Mesa’s men’s team, gets to watch game film of his younger brother Matt, a Devil senior guard, while he fleshes out those important data points.



“It might not show up in the scorebook, but these kids are mature enough to realize that more than points makes you win a game and they can believe in ‘do your role and do your job and make us win,’” said the coach.

“I think that’s a maturity factor that has allowed us to jump. We’re basically the same team as last year but we’re having a lot more success now.”

The uncommon synergy manifests itself on the court in an exciting, team-first brand of basketball that even has this former Battle Mountain teacher excited about tracking a Devils team’s playoff run.

“The biggest fixer for that kind of stuff is time together. Just relationships,” Brandt said about his secret for building cohesion. When gym rats like Nikko Von Stralendorff want early morning reps, Brandt only unlocks the doors if he brings a teammate with him. “It’s ‘If I’m going to work, I’m going to show you how to work, and we’re going to do this together,’” Brandt explained.

Parents are on board, too, providing team dinners before each game. “Everyone is really supporting each other,” Brandt said of the group effort.

Each year, the Devils have embraced a theme. In 2021, it was ‘Do the Work.’

“I just wanted to know that we’re outworking everyone during COVID,” Brandt justified. “Everyone is trying to find an excuse, we’re tyring to find a way.”

This year, it became more court-specific: ‘Effort, trust, and paint.’

“We want to have better effort than anybody, we want to build trust with each other. And, we want to keep people out of the paint and get into the paint ourselves.”

Even though summer league games are hard to come locally, Brandt has set the ambitious goal of playing a full season’s worth of games each off-season, something that has occasionally required the team to bunk at team members’ relatives’ Denver-metro homes. The result: an increased hunger for the hardwood in Gypsum.

“We are building a good basketball culture down here. Kids are hungry to play more games,” he said. Alumni familiar with Brandt’s expectations are stepping into feeder program leadership roles, an important aspect in keeping the snowball rolling.

“It’s cool to see that hopefully if I get to keep going, we can get some consistency in the off-season programs and can continue to build on what we’re doing,” Brandt said.

“We have a really healthy depth to our program, and I think that’s going to lead to success in the future, which I’m really excited about.”

Eagle Valley boys basketball player capsules

Nikko Von Stralendorff – The Kevin Durant of the Devils can play the point and guard the center. A sharpshooter (he’s above 40% from 3-point range), Stralendorff has honed specific aspects each off-season, perfecting his catch-and-shoot game between 9th and 10th grade and adding a rip-and-go dribble-drive element for his junior campaign. “He still needs to work at his finishing moves,” Brandt said about the college hopeful. “He has the biggest gamut — his skill set has allowed him to have a wider role.”

Bryan Martinez – The 2021 conference leader in steals enjoyed a plethora of fast-break points last season, but in the Devils new defensive scheme, Martinez’s role has shifted. “It shows his unselfishness,” Brandt said of the adjustment. He’s responded by improving his shooting. His most critical attribute, however, is his ability to dish off the drive. “He’s definitely one of our best creators; he can get past his man.”

Max Jaramillo – Jaramillo has seen a substantial playing time increase in this “coming out year.” “Part of getting more playing time is building trust with your coach,” said Brandt. “I definitely trust Max.” The team’s fastest downhill player, Jaramillo can deftly drive to the rim from the arc in one dribble. He has uncanny court vision, too. “Most of his turnovers — he makes the perfect pass, but his teammates are a second behind in finding the opening he saw for them,” Brandt praised.

Branden Villalobos – Along with Jaramillo, Villalobos shines in crunch time. “In the fourth quarter, they rise to the occasion,” Brandt complimented of the pair. “They just really lock in when it matters the most.” ‘Lobos’ is the ‘wolf’ of the team, according to the coach. “He’s our tough guy.” Always tasked with defending the opposition’s best guard, the quick wing-man also creates opportunities for his sweet-shooting teammates when he gets to the paint. “He brings energy to the rest of the team,” said Brandt.

Matt Garby – Blessed with unlimited shooting range, Garby has an occasional hesitancy to use it. “His team will get mad at him when he doesn’t shoot,” the coach stated. The senior has the unenviable role of coming off the bench at a moment’s notice. “It’s just so cool to have kids on the bench who you can be like, ‘hey, I need a shot right now, you’re going into the game,’” said Brandt.

Eric and Erich – Hasley and Petersen bring a rangy athleticism to the Devil frontcourt. “They’re our best athletes by far,” complimented Brandt. With football and lacrosse to train for, basketball is the third sport for the “freaky athletic” players capable of guarding every position on the court. “The fact that I can bring them in and rotate them and constantly put them on the best post players on the other team, it just adds so much to our game,” said Brandt. “They’re totally unselfish. They would start for almost any other team in the conference.”

Branden Vigil – During his sophomore year, the now guard was the starting center, not because of his height, but because of his toughness. “His role has changed a lot; his shooting has gone up every year,” Brandt said about the 42% 3-point shooter. “He’s just a tough kid.” Vigil is also the glue man, reading the room and coming alongside teammates who need extra attention. Finally, he’s clutch. “He’s never the biggest, tallest, or quickest, but I just can’t take him off the court,” Brandt admitted. “He’s always in the right place.”

 


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