Three of a different kind
Two are fiery competitors; one the calm in they eye of the storm.
Two dress rather nondescriptly; one is almost as eccentric as Outkast’s Andre 3000.
Two do most of their riding in cars or on buses; one rides horses bareback in the rodeo.
Despite the differences in playing styles, dress and mode of transport, though, on and of the court, there is one thing all three share in common, one bond that holds them together.
Sean Bartlett, Dillon Barkman and Jerad Schlegel are the three remaining seniors on the Eagle Valley basketball team, the only holdovers from a pared-down freshmen group of 12 who stuck it out for all four years.
To head coach Phil Cain, they are as special a class as he has ever seen in his seven years leading the Devils, a diverse group of personalities and abilities that form the nucleus of a potent offensive and defensive unit.
When the Devils travel to Roaring Fork today to tussle with the Denver Christian Crusaders in the first round of the 32-team, Class 3A Colorado State Boys Basketball Championships, Cain will no doubt be looking for his senior stars to lead the charge.
“We’re proud of our seniors,” says Cain after Wednesday’s practice in preparation for Denver Christian. “All three of them started on the freshmen team and they’ve worked their way up. Through their diligence and hard work, they are the only three seniors left on the team. All three play significant roles and they’re great guys to be around. We’re going to miss them.”
Each brings a different strength to the court with them. Bartlett, a diminutive 5-foot-10 guard, who seems to grow two inches when you see his name on the roster is the best shooter of the trey, a dangerous 3-point threat who is light on his feet and quick with his release.
He is also a silent killer when it comes to defense, a competitor who takes pride in shutting down the other team’s best shooter.
He is also the most even-tempered of the three.
Always cool-headed no matter what the situation, his steadiness is recognizable as an attribute gleaned from his days playing quarterback for the Devils football team.
Schlegel, who played tailback in the Devils’ backfield and took the handoffs from Bartlett is as tough as they come. A rodeo star in his second life, the 5-foot-11 guard attacks the open court the same way he attacked the open field on the gridiron, sometimes forgetting that his defenders don’t wear pads.
He dives for every loose ball. He sets mean picks. He tends to score in double figures every game, even though he doesn’t possess the same soft touch as Bartlett – his doggedness his most valuable asset.
“Since we’ve played together for such a long time, there is definitely a connection,” says Bartlett about his connection with Schlegel on the floor. “We know each other and we know how each other plays. Just from playing football and other sports together, that definitely carries over.”
“Since we’ve all been playing sports together since we were really little we kind of have a feel for each other for what we’re going to do,” adds Schlegel. “We feed off of each other and help each other know what the other is going to do. That gives us an edge.”
And then, there is Barkman.
The tallest Devil on the roster at 6-foot-5, Dillon seems to model his game after players like Dennis Rodman or the Detroit Pistons’ Ben Wallace. Baskets are nice and everything, but he would much rather swat somebody’s shot into the stands than square up for a jumper.
He also takes after Rodman in the fashion category, rocking an assortment of original outfits that tend to draw stares. On Wednesday, he walks out of the locker room with a camouflage bandana tied around his head, with matching camouflage shorts and a big, black ski vest.
“Look at this guy,” remarks a smirking Schlegel upon taking in Barkman’s get-up.
It takes confidence to wear such things in small town Gypsum, the same kind of confidence that Barkman elicits when he goes for a big dunk on a breakaway, even if it’s a two-point game.
Barkman is also content to let the Devils other big man, 6-foot-4 junior Cody Gerard do most of the scoring underneath and be the go-to guy.
Barkman would rather bang with the other teams’ big boys and pull down rebounds, instead of racking up offensive stats. If Gerard is the star, Barkman is the bodyguard – the enforcer every night who slowly whittles away at his foe’s resolve.
“It’s fun. I like to be the person to push people around.” Barkman says.
“It’s fun blocking shots and dunking and stuff. I love getting above the rim because everybody gets excited off of it. It feeds the team and it feeds the crowd.”
One last shot
Friday, when the Devils take to the floor against Denver Christian, it could be the last time the three remaining seniors suit up together for Eagle Valley.
After losing to Eaton in a hard-fought, second-round playoff game last fall in football to close out their gridiron careers, Schlegel and Bartlett both aren’t ready to feel the same pain Friday against the Crusaders.
More than anything they’d love to get a rematch with 3A Slope champ, Roaring Fork – their likely second round matchup if they advance – and finally get the Rams back for two conference losses this year.
“We really want to get to (the Elite Eight),” says Schlegel. “Especially us guys. It’s our last chance. It’s got to start with this Faith Christian game.”
Bartlett thinks for a minute, possibly turning over the pain of the Eaton loss in his mind, before he speaks again.
“We’ve been there in football and other sports,” he says “We know when it’s time to start playing. We don’t want to feel like that again.”
Nate Peterson is at 949-0555 ext. 608 or at email@example.com
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.