Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball coach Luke DeWolfe keeps an eye on his team Friday during a ball-handling drill. DeWolfe started his first season as head coach of the Sailors on Monday when the preseason basketball camp kicked off. Regular practices start Wednesday afternoon. DeWolfe replaces longtime Steamboat coach Kelly Meek, who retired after last season.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball coach Luke DeWolfe keeps an eye on his team Friday during a ball-handling drill. DeWolfe started his first season as head coach of the Sailors on Monday when the preseason basketball camp kicked off. Regular practices start Wednesday afternoon. DeWolfe replaces longtime Steamboat coach Kelly Meek, who retired after last season.

Assistant DeWolfe set to take over SSHS hoops after Meek

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Steamboat Springs basketball coach Luke DeWolfe joins senior Nelson Brassell, left, and sophomore Connor Landusky in a strength exercise Friday during the final day of the program's preseason camp. Steamboat will start regular practices Wednesday afternoon.

— There is a calm and cool collectiveness about first-year Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball coach Luke DeWolfe.

He's casual before practice, often joking with his players, talking to them about classes and about whatever else might be going through a 16-year-old student's head.

But he's business-like in his approach to the game. Running a skills camp last week, DeWolfe was as much a part of the action as anyone on the court. He was teaching - and, by his account, often learning - skills he's acquired while coaching basketball for almost 10 years. And when a player doesn't do something right, the hands go out or to the hips, and the eyes narrow.

Those are looks Steamboat fans will get to know.

So even while DeWolfe might be filling the biggest shoes in the state, following legendary coach Kelly Meek's career of 34 years and 544 wins, it's hard to tell where Meek left off and DeWolfe started.

"There have been other opportunities where I could be a head coach, but it was the kids here," DeWolfe said. "I felt like this is a great opportunity with these guys. They're just great kids and guys to be around. For me, it was a no-brainer. I talked about it with my family one night and the next day said, 'Let's do it and jump into it.' I've been here every day during the summer, then through camps and tournaments this summer, and we've had open gyms every day."

Expectations around the Steamboat basketball program will be unrealistically high. In addition to the wins, Meek won 44 league, district or regional championships and 20 preseason tournament championships. His teams won the Western Slope League championship eight of the past 11 years, including three undefeated league campaigns in the past four years. In that span, the Sailors won 30 consecutive league games, a school and league record.

But when Meek began to think about stepping down earlier this year, he came to DeWolfe and asked him if he'd be interested in the job.

"I look at him and remember what it was like when I was youthful. I turned 62 this year," said Meek, who now is helping coach the Western State College men's basketball team in Gunnison. "I see a person that really has a gift to work with kids and get a lot of them. This is his program, his team and his system. I know these kids will support him.

He's going to bring a freshness to the program. There has to be a newness and excitement about that. I think that's healthy."

What's also helped in the transition is the relationship between current and former coach. DeWolfe coached the freshmen team to a 15-1 record last year and helped Meek with the varsity team.

The coaches remain in close contact, and DeWolfe said he encourages his players to contact Meek if they need anything.

"It's been smooth," said Nelson Brassell, one of Steamboat's returning seniors. "I was a little worried because, after Meek, you're always wondering what kind of coach you're getting compared to him. But I couldn't be happier. I feel he'll be just as effective but in a different way."

What won't be different are the expectations. DeWolfe said he doesn't want to put those expectations out there, but there is a sly cunningness when he talks about this year's team.

"I think my expectations are the same as coach Meek's," DeWolfe said. "We'll see how it goes. I feel good, and I feel confident in the kids' ability. It's easy to step into a place where the kids know what they're doing and understand the game. That's what Kelly's legacy is.

"They're big shoes to fill for sure. But all I can do is be myself and hope for the best."

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