Dakota Ridge boys hoops prepared to maneuver through upcoming season

Dakota Ridge's boys basketball team hopes to be in the mix for a Class 5A Jeffco League title this year after finishing tied for third last season. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

LITTLETON — Dakota Ridge’s boys basketball team won’t be making any excuses this season.

“I’ve decided as a program that we were never going to complain about rules, masks, games or the season,” Dakota Ridge boys basketball coach Sean Kovar said after practice Jan. 20. “As long as we get a chance to come together as brothers to be a family. We are just super excited to be here with balls bouncing and shoes squeaking.”

While every high school basketball team across the state will be dealing with COVID-19 pandemic rules and regulations, the Eagles took a big hit before players took the court for official practices this week. Taeshaud Jackson Jr. — Class 5A Jeffco League first-team all-conference selection last season as a junior — won’t be on the court for Dakota Ridge.

Dakota Ridge boys basketball coach Sean Kovar works with players during the first week of practice. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Jackson decided to leave Dakota Ridge and Colorado to enrolled in a California prep school. He averaged a double-double last season with 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.

“I was obviously disappointed for our program because I knew what an awesome kid and player he was, but we totally supported him in his decision,” Kovar said of Jackson. “Anyone who comes through our program we want the best for them. He was in a situation where he could better his situation and we completely supported that. We are excited to see where he ends up playing at the next level.”

Jackson had been catching the eyes of Division I programs.

Dakota Ridge would have had a formidable one-two inside punch with the 6-foot-6 Jackson and 6-foot-8 senior Gino Corridori.

“It was for sure disappointing, but Taeshaud is my brother and I want the best for him,” Corridori said. “Obviously I would have liked him to stay, but it was his decision at the end of the day.”

A positive for the Eagles is having Corridori back at 100 percent. Corridori averaged 14.3 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, but in only 10 games. A broken wrist kept Corridori on the bench for the first half of the season.

“It’s huge,” Kovar said of having Corridori back. “He is a leader and is one of our rocks. We play through him a lot. Over the last four years he is one of the most improved players we’ve ever seen come through our program. He can do it all.”

Dakota Ridge senior Gino Corridori has already signed to continue his basketball career at Western Colorado University after graduation. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Western Colorado University saw the talent too. Corridori has already signed to play basketball at the Division II program in Gunnison. Before heading off to the next level, Corridori sees the Eagles as a 10-win team during the shorted 14-game regular season.

“It feels great because I know I can contribute right way this year,” Corridori said. “It was hard to watch last year.”

Dakota Ridge played its best basketball last year in the playoffs. As the No. 41 seed in the state tournament, the Eagles upset No. 24 Doherty in the opening round. Dakota Ridge nearly clipped rival and No. 9 Columbine in the second round. The Rebels were able to rally late to escape with a narrow 59-54 victory.

“We always talk about playing our best basketball at the end during the state tournament,” Kovar said. “I felt like we were there last year and had a really good chance to beat a really good team. It just didn’t go our way.”

Kovar is counting on his other three seniors — Hunter Hickman, Joel Dominic and Jonathan Junker — on leading Dakota Ridge into the Eagles’ season that begins Jan. 27 with a road game at Legend.

“You definitely have to come out with a different mindset,” said Hickman, who was a 5A Jeffco League honorable mention selection last season. “You can’t just go out and get a handful of preseason games under your belt. We have to come out hitting it hard.”

Dakota Ridge senior Hunter Hickman, left, returns as a Class 5A Jeffco League honorable mention selection last year. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)