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.
Steamboat Springs Two weeks ago seemed like four years ago.
Walking into the Steamboat Springs High School gym, there stood 2008 graduate Michael Vandahl, basketball in his hands, shooting jumpers from anywhere and everywhere.
Vandahl always was one of my favorite local athletes, and he’s the best basketball player Routt County has seen in the past six years.
He was amazing to watch in high school. He scored 37 points in his final high school game against Moffat County, including 18 first-quarter points and jaw-dropping 28-footers. That game will always stand out in my mind.
While chatting with Vandahl recently about his pending transfer to Western State College in Gunnison, it was nice to see that not much about him has changed.
Vandahl isn’t much bigger than he was in a Sailors uniform, but his skills on the court are better and more diverse.
With his recent commitment to Western State, he’ll reunite with former Sailors coach Kelly Meek and current Western State coach Mike Moskowitz, who was an assistant in Steamboat from 1997 to 2000.
Vandahl has his reasons for transferring for the third time in his collegiate career. He wasn’t excited about the direction of the program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and he wanted to get back to Colorado and closer to family.
What surprised me was Vandahl acknowledging that if he had to do it all over again, he would have gone to Western State to play under Meek and Moskowitz from the beginning.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but Vandahl shouldn’t have any regrets.
Despite his immense talent, he was too short and not physically gifted enough for Division I basketball. But he yearned to play at that level, so he took a chance and walked on at the University of Denver.
It didn’t work out, and after a year he transferred to Nebraska-Kearney. There he found a level of basketball in which he could compete, and be a starter. Two years later, Vandahl finds himself coming full circle. Vandahl will have to sit out this season, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Like most opportunities Vandahl has had, he’s embracing it.
What always has made Vandahl special is his work ethic. If you ever needed to find him, all you had to do was check the gym. No prep athlete has worked harder since I’ve called Steamboat Springs home. That work ethic helped him overcome a lot of those physical shortcomings.
So it didn’t come as a surprise that Vandahl, when talking about his move to Western State, didn’t focus on what happened in Kearney, or reuniting with Meek.
No, Vandahl went with what he knows best, his words carrying the same weight they did four years ago.
“I just want to help this team win,” he said. “I am going to work hard and get better.”
Two weeks ago or four years ago, Vandahl is still showing us what athletes should strive to become.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com