Mohrmann: Air Academy basketball title brings a feeling of tradition

Longmont Air Academy boys basketball

(Kai Casey/CHSAANow.com)

BOULDER — Air Academy's locker room used to be plain white. There's not much tradition to that. So Barry Clark began having his team paint specific bricks to highlight the accomplishments of past basketball teams.

"The first one we painted was the 1989 state championship team," Clark said in the bowels of the Coors Events Center. That brick was the only one designated for a state championship.

Hopefully there's room next to it.

The Kadets are state champions. They beat undefeated Longmont 64-59 in overtime Saturday night to earn that moniker. They'll have a brick in the locker room dedicated to them.

"During timeouts I was asking my players if they were having fun," Clark said. "The score wasn't a factor to them. They just thought (the game) was awesome."

It seems that the Kadets have all the makings of a calm, cool and collected bunch, but that hasn't been the case all year. During a 65-53 loss against Sand Creek on Jan. 9, Clark was upset with his players for taking too many 3-pointers. Their full-court press wasn't working and they looked like a team that was going to struggle in the Pikes Peaks Athletic Conference. They did't look like a team ready to hoist a state title.

It wasn't until Air Academy traveled to Sand Creek that they looked like the squad that was on display Saturday.

"I think we were better (than some teams that had beat us) and we weren't getting settled," Clark said. "(At Sand Creek) we went up big, they came back and we stopped it. At that point we thought 'It's over, it's done. We're going all the way.'"

Knowing that they could go on the road and beat a team like Sand Creek gave them the confidence they needed to get through a tough 4A field. The meat grinder that was the PPAC this season helped prepare them for that, but to even get to a state title game, they had to face a familiar foe.

Friday night, they stood face-to-face with the Lewis-Palmer Rangers who had split their season series with the Kadets.

"We had beaten them pretty badly (earlier this year) so we knew we could do it," Kadets guard James Sims said. "We just knew that we had to give it our all."

But Clark reminded them that they needed to have fun. It's how this team got to where they were. In fact, he was so insistent that his guys go out and just play to have fun that he let them in on the secret of how they could lose.

"I told them if if they play to win, they would struggle," he said.

What he saw during Saturday night's thriller was a team that was having fun. Even after the Trojans started clawing their way back from a 10-point deficit, the Kadets were enjoying every minute of it.

The extra four minutes of play only added to the legacy of this team.

"It's a better story to tell your kids," Clark said with a smile. "If you look at James Sims and he's smiling, you're in trouble because that's how he plays with intensity. He's out there laughing and having a good time."

That's the kind of environment Clark has created and hopes and maintain at Air Academy. If he's successful, his team will be painting a lot more bricks in the future.