COLORADO SPRINGS — Mead felt like it had all the necessary tools to capture a boys basketball state championship. Then at the oddest time, life decided to throw a curveball. Nick Basson, the third leading scorer for the Mavericks, suffered a stroke.
He was loaded onto Flight for Life and taken to Children's Hospital in Aurora. Just over a week later, he sat on the bench to watch his teammates battle to a 68-44 win over Montrose to capture the Class 4A boys basketball championship, the first for the team since 1957.
"It was just over a week ago that this happened with Nick and this team is just so connected," coach Darin Reese said. "To get the news of Nick, it was shocking to everyone and it's still hard to believe. It made us tighter after we found out that he was going to be ok."
It also gave the team an emotional boost that they sustained all the way through the postseason. And they walked onto the floor of the Broadmoor World Arena, each player donned a warmup shirt with No. 1 and "Basson" on the back, keeping their teammate — a teammate they would've loved to have on the floor — on their mind.
But the game had to go one. Elijah Knudsen was electric in the first quarter, scoring 13 of the Mavericks (15-3 overall) 21 points in the quarter.
"He's gotten so good at understanding what a good (shot) is and when to get his teammates involved," Reese said. "When he hits one or two, you want to give him a little bit of space because he can get going."
Montrose (18-1) found their footing in the second quarter and closed the Mead lead to just four points at halftime, but the Mavericks turned the jets back on in the third and never looked back.
Despite not having JP Shiers on the floor for much of the second and third quarters because of foul trouble, Mead was able to play at their pace and continue to knock down open shots.
"I enjoy doing that," Knudsen said. "But definitely my teammates are a bunch of help. Marcus Santiago, our senior, we don't win this game if he doesn't show up the way he did tonight."
Knudsen led all scorers with 30 points and Santiago had 18. Ashden Oberg led Montrose with 17.
Once the Mavericks had the lead and they knew the emotional implications that would come with a win, there was no choice but to finish the game strong. What made the quest all the more important was that Basson was able to be on the bench, actively rooting for his guys as if he was sitting out for a sprained ankle.
"I actually got to go and surprise the guys at practice (last week)," Basson said. "Seeing the Final 4 was great and being able to come down here and be a part of this, it was exciting. It was fun."