Size the key for Saints hoops |

Size the key for Saints hoops

Chris Freud
Bret Hartman / Vail DailyVail Christian's Jon Armstead drives to the hoop against his teammate Caleb Pearson during practice Wednesday in Edwards.

EDWARDS – “When I was a freshman, I was the only one to make varsity. I was lucky,” now-Vail Christian senior Jamie Graef said with an infectious laugh at Wednesday’s Vail Christian boys basketball practice.Times have changed for Sheldon Kuhns’ bunch. The Saints’ sixth man is a freshman who’s 6-foot-4.”We call him ‘Tree Beard,'” Graef joked about Jaryd Francis.There’s a lot of laughter in the Saints’ camp this year – and with good reason. Vail Christian’s lucky band of 13 hoopsters has big ambitions for the upcoming season.Big is the key word here.

“The strength of our team is our size,” Kuhns said. “Jaryd’s 6-4. Caleb (Pearson)’s 6-4, Josh (Sibley)’s 6-3. Jamie’s 6-3, so we’re big. I think this team plays harder than any team I’ve coached yet. This is my fifth year and this team has the best effort we’ve had. They play hard. That’s the beauty of youth. There’s a lot of potential. We are going to be good.”Meet the SaintsIn a perfect world, Josh Glandorf runs the point and Jonathan Armstead is the shooting guard. Up front, the forwards are Graef and Pearson with Sibley at center.The world becomes perfect in January – just in time for the 1A Mountain League slate – when Sibley and Pearson get healthy. In the meantime, Armstead’s playing power forward, replaced by Nathan Howe at shooting guard. That also means “Tree Beard,” aka Francis, is at center.From the bench, the Saints feature Oliver Ristow, Tim Ragan, Chase Gruber. Blake Gruber, Andy Dalton, a Vail Mountain import, and Julian Gonzalez.

When healthy, the Saints should be competitive in league. Surprisingly, that was proved in a 56-30 loss in the season opener at Ouray. Graef was taking his SATs and wasn’t there. Sibley and Glandorf both got hurt. At the time of the injury, the Saints were just trailing the Trojans, 14-12. But with only two starters, though Pearson put up 13 points, bad things happen. Class 1A Vail Christian reversed itself in its second game of the season by shellacking 2A Telluride, 64-38. The Saints showed their promise with performances like Pearson’s 22 points and 13 rebounds, Francis’s 20 points and 17 picks of the glass and Armstead’s 15, coupled with seven assists.The Saints were also competitive with 4A Eagle Valley’s junior varsity Tuesday, losing 54-47, with Graef pouring in 23.”We’re very athletic. We’re very tall,” Kuhns said. “Our big deal this year is that we have mismatches. Because of our size, we can have a mismatch out there any time on offense or defense. We’re going to find that mismatch and start abusing that.”Also helping is the success that most of these athletes have had in track during the spring and football in the fall.

“A lot of times, the enthusiasm we get in football carries onto here,” Graef said. “We kind of want to carry that success on. We’re very hopeful. I’ve played for four years and this is the best we’ve done so far.”Free throwsSurprise, surprise, DeBeque is the favorite in the Mountain League. The defending champs lost four seniors, but had two transfers move in. The Saints are at DeBeque Jan. 22 and the champs visit St. Clare Feb. 4. Vail Christian seems to be in the mix with Ouray and Ridgway with Crested Butte bringing up the rear. … Sibley and Graef are the captains. … The Saints are at Soroco tonight. The girls, who will be profiled in Saturday’s Vail Daily, play at 5:30, followed by the boys at 7. … Finally, yes, we know, Pat Phelan. Mullen won the 5A state title in football. Our spies tell us that Phelan has been doing some whoofing this week on behalf of his alma mater.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or Colorado

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