After just a few minutes, it's clear that Manual senior guard Jaedon Bowles belongs on a basketball court.
He's fast, he's aggressive and there isn't a basketball skill that he doesn't know how to utilize. And it's helping the Thunderbolts evolve into a force when it comes to the Class 3A basketball landscape.
They're playing well at 9-2 overall (4-0 in the 3A Metro League) and Bowles ranks No. 2 in the state in scoring at 26.6 points per game. That's not just in 3A, that's in all classes. And that number is nothing new. He's averaged over 23 points per game since his sophomore year. As a freshman, he maintained a modest 18 points per game average.
One of his goals is to be better than everyone else and he knows that in order to do that, he needs to put in more effort and better effort than those he's competing with.
“I always say that there’s someone else out there working just as hard as I am," Bowles said. "I always want to be the hardest working person in the gym and outside of the gym.”
And that's consistent with what his coaches see in him. Sometimes Manual coach Omar Henry looks around the city of Denver and see what players from East, George Washington or Grandview are doing and there's no doubt in his mind that Bowles is right on that same level.
The biggest problem that he sees in terms of recognition is that Bowles plays at a 3A school. He doesn't think the classification should have anything to do with perception, but he's not letting Bowles make excuses in that regard. He preaches that if his star player wants to be seen as a true star, he just needs to get his talking done with his play.
“For Jaedon my expectation was for him to start trying to get some more respect than what he had been getting," Henry said. "At Manual he doesn’t get the respect that he should get. Our goal for him this year was to work on his game over the summer and have him get a little more aggressive and a little more polished."
It's the same goal he has for his team overall. And his team is following through on that goal thus far. Henry praised the play of senior point guard Davion Davis for his ability to score and distribute when necessary.
He's quick to say that Davis is a big reason that Bowles is having an outstanding season on the court and Bowles isn't arguing that point at all.
“We all have the same mindset," Bowles said. "We came into the season wanting a better team this year. We came in with the same goal and we want a championship at the end of the year.”
A year ago, the Thunderbolts had the look of a championship team but couldn't quite that push in the state tournament. They fell to league foe Faith Christian in the Great 8 and have been motivated to get back to the postseason ever since.
And while on that mission they certainly appear to mean business. On Tuesday, the No. 2-ranked Thunderbolts beat No. 3 Kent Denver 79-41.
Bowles scored 29 points while junior Jaden Stoffell added 27 and senior Adontre Thompson scored 10. It was the kind of statement win that just might get Manual that respect that Coach Henry believes it has earned.
“I hope so. I really hope so," Henry said. "Our main focus is that we want respect, but we want to take things one game at a time."
For his team, he wants a championship. For his top player, he wants people to talk about Bowles the way they'd talk about the other top players in the state. And for the Thunderbolts, the best way to have both of those things is to play as if they are directly tied to each other.
"If we continue to build, then he'll get that respect when he gets his team to a championship game," Henry said. "You can’t be the best player if you’ve never gotten your team to a championship game.”
Whether or not that's true is up for the talking heads to debate when the season comes to an end. But for Henry, Bowles and the rest of the Thunderbolts they intend to play to a level that will force those same talking heads and basketball fans around the state to acknowledge them as nothing but the best.