MANITOU SPRINGS — When Cole Sienknecht was a kid, he used to go up to Manitou Springs High School and watch his brothers play basketball.
As the games played out, he knew that he wanted to jump on the same path. As he continued to grow up, it became obvious to his family, his friends and to Sienknecht himself that he was destined to hoop.
"Ever since I came up here and watched my brothers play," he said. "Ever since there's been a ball in my hand."
Sienknecht is no longer a kid. And when that ball is in his hand now, he instills a healthy dose of fear in his opponents. With good reason. His jump shot is smooth, his ability to attack the basket is rivaled by few and his overall court vision makes him one of the most versatile players to ever play for the Mustangs.
Earlier this month, Sienknecht surpassed 1,000 career points, becoming just the fifth player in Manitou history to do so. He joins an elite club that includes CHSAA hall of famer Justin Armour, current Manitou assistant coach Brian Vecchio and Sienknecht's teammate for three years, Lucas Rodholm. Josh Megyeri is the fifth name on that list.
In reaching that career mark, he didn't receive the same local fanfare that the other 1,000-point players have this year, but he probably prefers it that way.
"I don't want to be remembered just for the scoring," Sienknecht says. "I want to be remembered for the player that I was and how hard I played. I want everyone after me to know that I would die on the court for any of the coaches or the fans or my teammates."
He's not kidding. When he steps on the court, he only gives one level of effort and that's maximum. The same theory held true when he was on the football field. He has taken the physical wear and tear of an athlete with no regard for himself, but total regard for the goals of his team.
His mother recently joked with Manitou athletic trainer Nick Nunley, telling him that her son keeps him in business. He often remarks that Sienknecht's treatment file reads more like a New York Times best-selling novel rather than the bullet-point shopping list that's more common with the school's other athletes.
But it's only because Sienknecht attacks every moment of every game with everything he has in him.
"It's how I was raised and how I grew up," Sienknecht said. "Growing up with two older brothers, when you get knocked down you have to get back up and keep fighting no matter what the circumstances are. It's my last season here at Manitou, there's no way I'm going to let a sprained ankle or a cough hinder me from competing with my team out there."
His older brothers, Corey and Chad, both played for the Mustangs. Even though they've both graduated and moved on, he still has a family atmosphere. Corey joined the boys coaching staff this season and their younger sister Caileen is a junior on the girls team.
When pressed on how Cole plays compared to his siblings, there was no easy answer for Manitou coach Ken Vecchio.
"It's hard to compare brothers," Vecchio said. "He and Corey were a lot alike. Chad was more of an inside player, so in that regard they were different. Guard-wise, he's as good as any guard we've ever had. He can be a pretty complete player, he can be a point guard, he can be a two-guard."
The coaching staff at Western State agreed with Vecchio's assessment. While Sienknecht was being ignored by UCCS and CSU-Pueblo, the Mountaineers did everything possible to add him to their roster. They succeeded.
Sienknecht will stay in Colorado and play in the RMAC and Vecchio is quick to note that they're not just getting a great basketball player, but a great overall human being.
"(They're getting) a real class kid and a real competitive kid," Vecchio said. "I think he'll have a pretty good career there. I think they got a real steal. A lot of times, kids from smaller schools get easily overlooked, but they obviously did their homework with him because they got a good player."
For now, Sienknecht is just trying to enjoy the final weeks of his basketball career at Manitou. He has a chance to finish third on the school's all-time scoring list behind Armour and Megyeri, but he would rather just win the games.
He has set a high bar when it comes to the standard of athlete and kid that Vecchio wants to see come through the gym doors.
"I can tell you right now, I never worry about what he's doing," Vecchio said. "I know he's never going to do anything wrong, so it puts the coach at ease knowing he's going to be here. He's played hurt, he's played tired, he's played sick and he's never griped about it one time. I wish we could have a team full of guys like that every year. It would make my job a lot easier."
The same goes for his role as a big brother. As the third child, he had always been the one looking up to his basketball-playing siblings.
For the last three years though, he has been able to watch his sister grow and develop her game. Now he gets to be the one that is looked up to and just as he has as a team leader, he accepts the heavy responsibility of that role.
"It's really an inspiration," Caileen said. "It encourages me to be better and he always encourages me to be a better person every day on and off the court. He's such well-rounded and amazing person."
There is little doubt to anyone who watches him play, whether friend or foe, that basketball will be in Sienknecht's immediate future. At the conclusion of this season, Manitou will have lost one its best all-time players. But there is no chance that he'll ever be forgotten.