GOLDEN — Adam Thistlewood was in tears as he attempted to go through his speech to thank his supporters during a National Letter of Intent signing celebration at Golden High School on Nov. 8.
“It just means so much,” Thistlewood said when asked why he was so emotional when the senior inked with Drake University’s D1 men’s basketball program in Des Moines, IA. “All the people who have impacted my life and how they have influenced my journey on where I am today. It’s beyond words.”
The 6-foot-7 inch forward averaged nearly 20 points and 7 rebounds per game during his junior year at Golden. As the No. 12 seed, the Demons advanced all the way to the Class 4A state semifinals last season.
“He (Thistlewood) is the hardest working kid I’ve ever been around,” Golden coach John Anderson said about his first player to go D1. “Coaches in our league and around the state are smart. They are going to do whatever they can to make someone else beat them besides Thistlewood.”
Losing just one senior — Kaden Sund who is redshirting at Chadron State College — expectations are high for Golden with Thistlewood as the keystone for the Demons. They are ranked No. 1 in 4A's preseason poll, which was released on Monday.
“There is no secret in this gym of where we want to go,” Anderson said during a practice over the Thanksgiving break.
After having just one senior last year, Anderson has the luxury of plenty of experience with 10 seniors returning this season. The longtime coach at Golden admits the focus this season is to get to that next step.
Anderson’s players are clearly on the same page.
“We’ve got to take care of ourselves and work hard to get back to where we were,” Golden senior Jack Moore said. “Our goal is to get all the way to the state championship. That is our mindset every day during practice.”
Moore, along with fellow seniors Jack McLaughlin, Joe Madsen and Jake Niss are just a few names that are key for the Demons’ supporting cast.
“I think most teams will first try to stop Adam,” said Madsen the 6-foot-5 post player. “We are going to have to work on ways to get other people the ball and other people to score.”
One thing Anderson has stressed to his players is that can’t get in the habit of standing around and watching Thistlewood work his magic. The versatile Thistlewood can play any position on the court and welcomes the number of different defenses that will be thrown his way.
“I’m super confident with my teammates. I trust them 100 percent. I don’t feel any extra pressure,” Thistlewood said. “I hope teams triple-team me. That would mean two guys are open away from me, that’s an easy layup.”
The last memory of the 2016-17 season hasn’t been easy to swallow. Golden lost to eventual 4A state champion and 4A Jeffco League rival Valor Christian 85-55 in the state semifinal at the Denver Coliseum.
Anderson was impress with how Valor carried itself on the way to the Eagles’ first boys basketball state championship title.
“The No. 1 thing that comes to mind is, getting back to where we were is not enough,” Anderson said. “Looking at Valor’s approach, winning in the semifinals for them was no big deal. They had be there before. It was a senior-laded group. They were on a mission.”
Valor had lost in the 4A title game the previous season and had zeroed in on nothing but the path to win the state championship last season. It appears Golden has the tools, talent and experience to make a serious run at winning the school’s first boys basketball state title.
It will all begin with the D’Evelyn/Golden Preview Classic this week. The Demons face three teams — Holy Family, Pueblo South and Lewis-Palmer — that were top-10 4A teams last year. Pueblo South advanced to the 4A state semifinals and Lewis-Palmer lost to Valor in the 4A title game.
Golden opener will be at home against Holy Family at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30. The Demons actually knocked out the No. 5-seeded Tigers in the Sweet 16 of the state tournament last year.
“We have a brutal non-league schedule to start out with Holy Family, Pueblo South and Lewis-Palmer,” Anderson said. “We do that for a reason. It’s not about winning every game. It’s about playing good teams, getting better and getting your RPI bumped up too.”
Golden lost six conference games in the tough 4A Jeffco League last season to finish fourth.
“I definitely don’t want to lose six league games again,” Madsen said. “That was rough.”
However, the battle-tested Demons went through Longmont, Holy Family and rival Evergreen to get down to the Denver Coliseum, a place where Golden wants to return to this March.
“I’m looking directly at that Final 4 game and the playoffs,” Thistlewood said. “I think league will take care of itself.”
The 4A Jeffco League should be ultra competitive again with Valor, D’Evelyn, Evergreen and Golden leading the way.
“League is going to be very tough again,” said Anderson, who guided Golden to back-to-back conference title in 2015 and 2016. “It doesn’t matter who has the best players in this league. It matters who gets it done every night.”