BOULDER -- Welcome home Dom Collier. The future star of the CU Buffs put an exclamation point on the end of his high school career as he led the Denver East Angels to a 70-49 win over Fossil Ridge to clinch the 5A state championship, an honor that slipped away from him a year ago.
On the floor of the Coors Events Center, which will house Collier’s college career as a player for the Buffs, he exploded for 18 points – 16 of them coming in the second half -- alongside fellow senior Ronnie Harrell’s game-high 20 to complete a season that had been rooted in redemption.
“I don’t even know what to say right now -- I’m so speechless. I’m just so happy that we got the win,” Collier said. “We were working for this all year and it finally paid off. The long practices that we had, the times that we didn’t want to go to practice, it all paid off.”
Prior to the start of Saturday’s game, CU head coach Tad Boyle smiled at the thought of his prized recruit ending his high school career the same way Boyle had many years ago.
In 1981, Boyle won a state a championship on the floor of what was then the CU Events Center. He would eventually go on to play for Kansas but having the chance to reflect on what Collier and the Angels could do, called the opportunity uniquely special.
“Dom’s making it more special because (by winning it) he’ll have won it on his home floor and then he’s staying in Colorado,” Boyle said. “He’s doing what I should have done.”
The victory for the Angels was far from a solo effort. The SaberCats have been sound defensively all season and knew that in order to have a chance at beating East, they would have to take Collier out of the game. They were able to do so in the first half, but Harrell stepped right up and showed why he, too, was the affection of Division I colleges around the country.
The future Creighton Bluejay scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half as the Fossil Ridge defenders zeroed in on Collier. Harrell was another who was shaken by last year’s loss to Eaglecrest, making Saturday’s win just as sweet an ending for his high school career.
“It’s an amazing feeling, being able to do it with the same starting five, Dom, J.J. and all my buddies -- just being able to come back and redeem ourselves really,” Harrell said. “It hasn’t hit me at all (that this is my last high school game). It crazy that you say that. I haven’t even thought about it.”
Harrell’s offensive contributions early in the game allowed Collier to settle into his rhythm and start feeling out the defensive style of Alex Semadeni. In the third quarter, Collier was able to cross Semadeni over and create open looks, allowing him to hit shots.
Once he started heating up, the SaberCats knew that the offense would start to run through him. At the end of the third quarter, Collier held the ball as the final seconds ticked away. With everyone convinced that he was going to drive for the final shot, all five defenders crept their way forward, leaving a wide open passing lane to senior Jevon Griffin for a lay-in to end the quarter, giving East a 13-point lead.
In front of his future coach and several future teammates, including Spencer Dinwiddie, Collier put the full scope of his game on display.
“He allows the game to come to him and we have other weapons,” Angels coach Rudy Carey said. “Other kids stepped up in Dom’s absence early in the game. Ronnie played great, Brian (Carey) played great, Tyre (Robinson) played great. I think big things are going to happen for him at CU and he just laid the groundwork for that.”
The title win for East marks the first championship for the school since 2008. Carey has plenty of time to enjoy the title win before he figures out how to replace 68 points a game that he is losing from this senior class.
But regardless of who fills the void left behind by Collier, Harrell and the rest of the seniors, Carey will be able to share with all his future players the story of a team that suffered ultimate heartache before earning a chance at redemption and seizing it with both hands much the way they seized the golden ball that was awarded to them on Saturday night.