Luke Graham

Luke Graham

Luke Graham: Luppes leading Tigers

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

— When Hayden High School boys basketball coach Mike Luppes took the job, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

Boys basketball in Hayden wasn’t a big deal. The Tigers usually finished in the middle of the pack and “postseason” wasn’t a word often used.

Flashback to the beginning of last season, and the thought here was that Hayden had some nice parts, but nothing near the level of the rest of the district.

Sure, the Tigers were athletic, but another middle-of-the-pack finish was expected for 2009-10. Hayden turned that expectation on its head, though, by making the state playoffs — and had it not been for a Murphy Smartt injury late in the year, the Tigers could have come away with more.

But still, before this season, I thought Hayden would fall back to mediocrity. The team lost multiple players and in a preseason scrimmage with Steamboat Springs, nothing on the court jumped out.

Hayden, I said, would be lucky to finish .500.

There is the exact reason I quit gambling, don’t coach and generally have no idea what I’m talking about.

The Tigers have been the biggest surprise of the winter season so far.

When trying to uncover why I was so wrong about the Tigers, I couldn’t help but come back to Luppes.

For all intents and purposes, Hayden isn’t incredibly imposing. Guards Graig Medvesk and Ben Williams form one of the top backcourts in the district, but before the season started, I thought that was all the Tigers had. The team still struggles with turnovers, but the production from forwards Jorge Valdez and Mark Doolin has been impressive.

And the effort the Tigers give never is in question.

That starts right from the top, where Luppes has been one of the top — if not the top —coach in the area for two years.

He knows his team, knows his rotation and has no problem getting the absolute best out of his players.

Take Medvesk, Hayden’s best player. What makes the senior so good is his court vision, allowing the game to come to him and his ability to never get rattled.

He’s an extension of Luppes on the floor.

The best things about watching Luppes coach aren’t necessarily his understanding of the game or ability to create mismatches. It’s his ability to get his team to play hard, no matter the circumstance. Luppes and the Tigers also stick to what they do best and don’t really ever let the other team dictate what type of game it is going to be.

Hayden enters Friday and Saturday’s district tournament as the No. 1 seed — another thing I had wrong — in the team’s second quest to make the state tournament.

While Luppes will give all the credit to his players, if Hayden is to make it to state again, it’s time to recognize the influence coming from the sidelines.

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