On Thursday January 24th head boys basketball coach Ken Shaw, the third-winningest basketball coach in Colorado history, was inducted into the CHSAA Hall of Fame.
Congratulations to Coach Shaw! We dug up a feature story we publish in April of 2016, just after Coach Shaw’s historic 700th win. It is republished here in its entirety. – Gustavo Flores-Gomez ’20
By John Lee ’16
Forty-one years in the making. 712 wins and counting. Winning is nothing new for Coach Ken Shaw.
But for Coach Shaw, winning isn’t the most important part of basketball. It’s about the process and how you do it.
”Too many times in sports, we talk about statistics,” Shaw says. “I think we fail sometimes to understand that it’s about a team.”
Shaw’s coached at five schools all throughout Colorado spending several years at Yuma, Sterling, Rocky Mountain, Smoky Hill, and currently at Regis Jesuit. At every school, he fosters an atmosphere that promotes family over victory.
”I think in our society, winning is probably overdone a little bit. Everybody loves a winner and everybody wants to win. And that’s all well and good, but I think you keep that in perspective,“ he says.
“There are other things involved that sometimes in the long run are maybe even more important.”
Two time RJ state champion Damien Mencini ‘11 recalls that, “winning was amazing. Winning those games? Absolutely incredible, but what we had as a team was the best part.”
“If you ask any of those players, we’ll all say that’s the best part,” Mencini’s teammate, Bud Thomas ‘11 said. “The biggest thing Shaw taught to me was the importance of brotherhood and having a relationship on and off the court with your teammates.”
Through the years, Shaw touched the lives of hundreds of players and coaches. He teaches players the importance of facing adversity, developing mental toughness, and having a positive attitude.
Shaw strives to create basketball players who can apply the sport to the real world.
”Coach essentially becomes a parental figure; teaching, coaching, helping you figure out things in basketball and all that translates to things bigger than basketball,” 2009 and 2010 player of the year Bud Thomas ‘11 added.
“He has changed the way I live my life,” senior guard Michael Wambsganss said. “He has instilled many life lessons in me that I can carry on into college and beyond.”
Damien Mencini recalls that, “the lessons you learned on the basketball court when I was 17 or 18 years old carry into the rest of your life.”
The lessons sprout from the foundation that, as Coach Shaw likes to say, come from the idea that “hard work and attitude are your only guarantees.”
From that seed, comes all different branches of messages. One of the most important lessons Shaw advocates is mental toughness. Life is easy when the going is good. Mental toughness comes into play when the going gets tough.
Shaw affirms that one must remain confident, enthusiastic, and positive. And one must work even harder when they’re sick, hurt, sad, or troubled. And that’s mental toughness.
Mencini now works for the government in Washington DC.
“There’s really hard days and when there’s time, you think to yourself,” he says. “All those things that you get and they don’t mean anything to you when you’re 18, but they mean a lot to you a while later. Those lessons are extremely valuable.”
Coach Shaw’s goal is “to bring out the best in each coach and person by what they can bring to the team.”
Joel Tribelhorn, former player on Shaw’s 1984 state championship team at Sterling High School, re- members how Shaw lead by example.
“He used to play with us because he was younger at that time. He actually played pickup games with us,” Tribelhorn said.
Tribelhorn learned so much about the game of basketball just by “watching him play and seeing how well he played; just trying to emulate and be like him.”
Damien Mencini’s story is well known throughout the entire Regis Jesuit basketball program. From being cut freshman year to being a two-time state champion, he showed resilience through hard work and the proper guidance.
“Shaw narrowed down my role specically,” Mencini remembers. “He knew exactly what he wanted from the players. He made sure that all of us understood, ‘listen if you’re going to play this role, you’re going to be the best at what I have you do’ he would say. He knew the entire vision of what he wanted out of his team. Ultimately, he helped me develop exactly what I needed to do for the betterment of our team.”
Shaw doesn’t just create great basketball players, he produces great men. He uses basketball to show his players all the various life lessons to be learned from the sport.
Starting from the small details to the big picture, Shaw wants to teach that for anything in life, you get out what you put in.
Tribelhorn, who was the 1984 Colorado state player of the year, adds that, “Coach Shaw conducted himself through leadership. You just have the utmost respect for what he did for you as a coach.”
Shaw builds character in every single one of his players. He teaches all of them to not let themselves down.
“Be proud of yourself and understand that you’re representing not only yourself. You’re representing your teammates, your family, and your school,” he says.
Senior forward Geoff Kelly adds “Coach Shaw reminds us that, ‘many people succeed when others don’t believe in them, but rarely does someone succeed when they don’t believe in themselves.’”
Bud Thomas, who hit a half court buzzer beater in the playoffs leading to the state title, talked about how everyone who sees it references it as a lucky shot, and there’s no doubt that luck played a role in it, but Thomas remembers Coach Shaw’s perfect explanation: “Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
“We came into the game very prepared for anything,” Thomas said. “And that opportunity arose and I was definitely lucky to hit it, but at the same time, our whole team never panicked, never thought we were out of the game and sure enough, a play like that came up. And that definitely wasn’t just me. We had to get a steal and move the ball around and it ended up in my hands.”
Every player on Shaw’s teams possesses a binder solely to fill with handouts that Coach Shaw hands out. All of the handouts are an important part of Shaw’s character building process.
Furthermore, Coach Shaw’s life lessons are omnipresent. Every practice and game starts with a thought of the day; a short phrase or statement that he wants his players to keep in their heads.
Here are just a few:
February 13, 2016: Championship games aren’t played to determine who has the better team. They’re played to find out who has what it takes to play like a champion when it matters most. February 18, 2016: Earn it everyday. February 19, 2016: Take pride in who we are + Finish it right.
The goal has been and always is perfection and excellence. “Excellence isn’t demanded, it’s expected,” Shaw states.
On the quote, Mencini adds, “[Shaw] never made us do anything, but we all knew exactly what we had to do. Day in and day out, we always knew what we had to do to get to where we wanted to be.”
That is the most perfect representation of the foundations of the Regis Jesuit Basketball Program.
”If you go into practices and games expecting to be average, that’s not going to get you state championships. Shaw ingrained that into our heads everyday,” Mencini added.
Thomas adds, “we have to expect to be excellent and if we’re anything short of that, we’re going to upset and we’re going to be disappointed. We need to strive for excellence.”
”When we sometimes do drills that seemed like, ‘man this is a waste of time,’” Tribelhorn remembers: “Coach Shaw on a number of occasions said, ‘if you think this drill is easy, just make every shot.’”
Regarding perfection, senior guard Dante Drennan adds, “Whatever Coach Shaw has been doing has been working as he’s found his place in Colorado’s high school basketball record books as a player and coach. He’s a legend.”