Kelly Walsh head coach Randy Roden noticed the high-fiving Trojan fans and players following Gillette’s upset victory over No. 1 Sheridan at Casper Events Center. That outcome meant the Trojans would not have to face the undefeated-in-state Broncs, but instead the defending champion Camels in the 2019 Wyoming State High School Class 4A Boys Basketball Championship last weekend.
Roden knew he had something special in the 2018-19 team. Still, he couldn’t help himself. He sent out a text message to the players as he walked to his car following Gillette’s upset. Unease remained even through Kelly Walsh’s shootaround early Saturday.
“We just went from the underdog to the favorite and that’s a totally different mindset. And I worried about that,” Roden said. “But this group is different. They are so focused on the mindset of what they wanted to do that it didn’t matter if it was Sheridan or Gillette, they just had focus.”
Roden’s team had its own dream season, led by a special group that rivals any of the five previous state champions he’s coached. The Trojans stayed focused on the prize and shut down the potent Camels offense in a decisive 60-36 state championship game Saturday.
Kelly Walsh’s 2018-19 team was built on a foundation of defense. The Trojans finished the season allowing a state-best 47.5 points per game. Still, what they were able to accomplish in the title game was remarkable. A day after sophomore Luke Hladky lit into Sheridan with 30 points, the Trojans held the defending champions to a season-low scoring output.
“We just had to buckle down, get in a stance and play defense for 32 minutes,” senior Davion McAdam said. “And we were able to do that.”
McAdam served as an undisputed senior captain this season for the Trojans. Senior teammate Ross Padilla hung off McAdam’s shoulders after the win and told the television cameras that they were looking at the Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year. (Padilla, McAdam and everyone else will have to wait until Friday to see if that comes to fruition.)
Roden noticed McAdam’s maturation all season. Not only through the final stat line, where the senior finished with 21.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but in his leadership. Roden noted McAdam watched film into the late hours, including one text message sent at 1 a.m. while meticulously studying film for matchups on the Trojans’ next opponent. Every day at practice it was McAdam who took over a key leadership role, something he watched former Trojans do when he was a sophomore on the bench during the program’s last state title.
“I’m going to hire him back as an assistant coach when he graduates from college,” Roden said. “This year he led us in every category he could, those seniors followed him, and we end up hoisting the big trophy. These guys deserve it so bad.”
Admittedly, the Trojans were powered by some of the talk around Wyoming. Through the new reclassification and realignment Kelly Walsh played in the West Conference. Sheridan, the Cheyenne schools and the two teams in Gillette played in the East. The Trojans heard all season that they couldn’t become champions for the second time in a three-year span because they couldn’t handle the East Conference.
Kelly Walsh went 3-0 in the state tournament against East Conference opponents.
“We had a chip on our shoulder for sure,” Padilla said. “They all said that the West was soft, but we knew what we had and we trusted ourselves to come out on top.”
Senior Connor Shopp walked amid the Trojans’ celebration at Casper Events Center, reminding those within earshot that the state doubted them. He grabbed a teammate under each arm and embraced them as champions. He shouted over to teammate Kade Marsh, a junior who provided incredible uplift (17 points, five rebounds) in the semifinal win against Cheyenne East. There was also junior Michael Bradley, whose shots from distance consistently provided the Trojans a lift this season.
But at the heart of the champion Trojans was a group of seniors who looked up to the 2017 state champion team and wanted gold of their own. And in order to do that, they banded together to create something special.
“This is the best group of guys I’ve ever been with in my entire life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” McAdam said. “There’s nobody else I’d rather be with.”
Added Roden: “It was a dream season for me, and I’ll be hard-pressed to find a team that I had that’s done the things this team has.”