Woodland Park B-ball Hopes Escalate With Return of Veteran Coach

New Panther Basketball Coach Brian Gustafson gears up for his first season back as head coach. Photo By Paul Magnuson.

Record  Number of Try-outs Occur for WP Park Basketball Team

Trevor Phipps

The high school winter sports season is now  in full swing.

And at least for Woodland Park, the boys’ basketball team has become one club that everyone is talking about.

For the ’21-’22 year, Brian Gustafson has returned to the basketball court as the team’s head skipper. That’s good news for Woodland Park, as Gustafson is well-known for revamping local sports teams and has experience in the college coaching ranks.

Gustafson previously coached the team between 1996 and 2012 before he joined the coaching staff of the Colorado College Tigers for the 2013-2014 season. He also gained quite a reputation for rebuilding the school’s golf program from virtually a state of “rags to riches.”

Big crowds fill the gym to watch the boys’ basketball home match against Bishop Machebeuf. Photo By Paul Magnuson.

The coach has now returned after taking a break from coaching basketball, and fans are excited to watch him bring his college coaching skills to Woodland Park. In fact, so many students wanted to play under Gustafson’s reign that they had nearly 30 students try out for the team.

At press time, the Panthers had played four games and posted a 2-2 record. The coach said that the two losses were against tough teams.

He also said that one of the wins was a game they should have won and the other “W” was in a match against Bishop Machebeuf High School that could have gone either way. The Panthers beat the team last Tuesday by an 80-72 score.

Panther Wyatt Faye races towards the basket. Photo By Paul Magnuson.

However, even though the season has started, the Panthers have not yet played against a team in their league. The Panthers first league game won’t take place until this Saturday when they take on the brutally tough 4-0 St. Mary’s Pirates who are the returning league champions.

So far, the coach said that he has liked what he has seen with this year’s team. “The crew really likes to play hard,” Gustafson said. “They like to play fast which is one of our strengths.”

He cites strengths on both offense and defense. But the coach did say that the team needs to improve in the area of rebounds on offense and defense. He said that since they are one of the smallest teams in size and height, they really need to work on rebounding.

One player that has impressed the coach this season is junior Sonny Ciccarelli. “Sonny is our team’s top returner,” the coach said. “He led our team in scoring a year ago when he was a sophomore. He averaged just over 17 points a game last year. He’s certainly one of our statistical leaders especially in the offensive category. But he is also the guy that through four games has had to guard the other team’s best player.”

Panther B-Baller Sonny Ciccarelli takes a shot. Photo By Paul Magnuson.

Gustafson also said that sophomore Caden Howard stood out when the team played Bishop Machebeuf. “He led us in scoring during the game,” the coach said. “He is a good shooter and also a very active defender.”

The coach did say that the world of high school basketball has changed since his previous stint with the Panthers in 2012. “My initial observations are that the style has changed a little bit with what we have seen in four games,” Gustafson said. “Teams feel more inclined to fire more and more shots now than they did maybe a decade ago. I think it’s a little faster and not as clean. I think the desire to shoot the three-pointer has really increased.”

Gustafson said that he has some adapting to do to make his team a “more rounded squad.” He also said that he is excited to bring some of what he learned in coaching college basketball to the high school courts this year.

He said one main tip he learned during his time on the Colorado College coaching staff  involved better game preparation tactics. He now knows how to better plan for the various styles of game play.

“Overall, I think it just helped me grow and learn as a coach,” Gustafson said. “It’s kind of like being a player in the sense that the more you do it, the more things kind of slow down for you. It is the same thing as coaching, the more you do it, the easier it is to see and understand things.”

The Panthers’ b-ball team will square off against St. Mary’s this Saturday at home at 3 p.m. After that the team takes some time off for Christmas break. The Panthers then return to the courts on Jan. 3 to take on the 1-1 Florence Huskies on the road.