Luke Graham

Luke Graham

Luke Graham: Mendoza-Forsyth is taking the next step

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— Four years ago, former Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball coach Kelly Meek sat in his office and raved about an incoming freshman.

It wasn’t uncommon for Meek to rave and talk about players. But he said this one could be special.

For three-plus years, Isiah Mendoza-Forsyth has been good, but never quite the player Meek said he’d be.

Sure, Mendoza-Forsyth has had moments of brilliance and times when he took over a game, with stunning plays like a no-look pass, an end-to-end layup or a smooth pull-up jumper. But the next play, or next quarter, that brilliance would transform into hesitance.

The confidence would be gone. Mendoza-Forsyth would disappear, and many times, so would Steamboat’s swagger.

It hasn’t been hard to predict when Mendoza-Forsyth would be successful. When he’s aggressive and confident in his game, he’s often the best player on the court. His speed, dribbling ability and court vision set him apart from most. When he finds his jumper, he can be nearly unstoppable.

But for whatever reason, that confidence hasn’t always been there.

Now, though, the player that Meek gushed about just four years ago seems to be the player everybody is starting to see.

After a loss to Palisade on Jan. 21, where Steamboat was without leading scorer Charles Wood, the Sailors’ season came to a crossroads.

The next night, the team traveled to play Delta, a hot team with a darn good point guard of its own.

Steamboat coach Luke DeWolfe knew his team had its back to the wall. A loss essentially would have eliminated the Sailors from the Western Slope League title chase and would have made making the playoffs an uphill battle.

Mendoza-Forsyth also was at a crossroads. He could have let the big moment take away from his confidence. Instead, all he did was score 27 points and lead Steamboat to a 60-44 win.

Then, on Friday, with Steam­boat trailing Moffat County by five with a minute left, Mendoza-Forsyth dribbled down the court, stepped back and hit a deep three-pointer to cut the lead to two, keying Steamboat to a 51-50 win.

Asked why he’d take a three there — a difficult shot with a defender in his face — Mendoza-Forsyth had a one-word answer.

“Confidence,” he said, not with a grin but with, well, confidence.

Finally, Saturday against Glenwood, he scored a team-high 17 points while guarding the league’s best player, Kevin Flohr, on every possession.

Mendoza-Forsyth finding the biggest key to his game is making Steamboat a completely different team.

He’s the Sailors’ biggest factor to the rest of the season. Should he continue playing like he has, confident and with some swagger, that premonition made four years ago will come true.

Mendoza-Forsyth will be that very special player.

— To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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