Mile High Hoops Coaches Corner: Grant Laman
Thomas Jefferson coach Grant Laman has won two state titles in his nine years at the helm.
Head Coach: Thomas Jefferson High School (9th year)
Coaching experience: 16 years
Previous Jobs: Thomas Jefferson JV coach (4 years), Lakewood C Team (3 years)
State Titles: 2 (2005,2006)
The Thomas Jefferson Spartans are 6-4 this season and have completed all of their games before Christmas break. The Spartans have quality wins over Heritage, Chaparral and D’Evelyn.
Zach Cohn: What is your favorite part about coaching high school hoops?
Grant Laman: Wow, there are just so many. If you are making me pick one part it’s making a good strong connection with the players. Yes, titles are great, but maybe my proudest moment is that I’m Godfather to one of my former player’s children, and it’s those lifelong connections that you make that are great.
ZC: What do think differentiates coaching high school basketball rather than coaching on a different level?
GL: Well I think in college you just coach. But we’re going through finals here and I have teaching duties as well. So I’m preparing finals and grading finals. You know I get to school at 7 a.m. and we play tonight at 7 p.m. All I really want to think about is the game, but I have a lot of teaching responsibilities as well.
ZC: You own two state championship rings. How hard was it to get to that mountaintop?
GL: Each year I treasure the championships more because it is so hard to get there. And as a head coach, I won it in my third and fourth year. At the end of four years I was 50 percent, state champs. And I did realize then how tough it was, but you realize even more now that getting there is so tough. I mean one team in each classification wins. One team. That’s it. So I obviously want to get back there every year, but I know that’s not going to be easy, so I treasure my rings even more as the years go on.
ZC: It’s no secret you lost some crucial pieces to the puzzle to graduation, losing all state players Ray Riley and Ben Sprague? Who has stepped up this season to fill the void created by their departure?
GL: You know after the end of last season I think, myself included, a lot of people thought that TJ is going to be rebuilding, but it’s not the case. I think we reloaded. It feels like a little different team because we had a couple transfers, Isiah Tolliver from Houston, and Jordan Roland from Jefferson Academy. But we still have huge contributors in Nathan Brewer, who is now a junior, and Eric Andres, who is now a sophomore. It does feel like we are reloading, not rebuilding.
ZC: I have noticed that you are not shy when it comes to scheduling tough non-conference opponents at the onset of your campaign. How valuable are these early season contests against legit contenders?
GL: My philosophy is to schedule the absolute best we can. And almost halfway through the season this schedule this year is super tough. We have such a tough league, that I want to schedule a tough non league, and that gives us the best chance in the state tournament.
ZC: You play in the always competitive Denver Prep league. What makes the DPL different than other conferences?
GL: I think most of the suburban schools you have guys that go to the same elementary and middle schools and they all play together. With Denver, you have to treat the whole city as the elementary or the middle school because the guys all know each other in the city. And then the talent divides out to the different schools and then these kids are playing for bragging rights and it gets intense.
ZC: Speaking of intense, which DPL opponent would you consider to be your biggest rival and why?
GL: Over the years or this year?
ZC: You tell me.
GL: When I started here as a head coach I had a good friend, Shawn Dirden, who started at George (Washington), and we just started working our teams together. Off season shootarounds, summer workouts. Now I am nine years in and we still kind of work with George. Our guys know their guys. There are always a couple transfers from George to TJ or TJ to George. So I would say George is probably my biggest rival.
ZC: Compare the dynamic of your family at home to the family on the court?
GL: That is quite the journalistic question… Uh at home I am not quote ‘the guy in charge’ as much as I would like to be, as I am here at the basketball program. (Laughs)
ZC: As a former proud Spartan graduate myself, I know how close the TJ family can be. Talk about how the how Thomas Jefferson high school is such a close-knit community.
GL: We are pretty unique in that we have a big school feel, having just over 1,000 students, but you do feel like you kind of know everybody. There is a certain draw to coming back here. In the hiring process, I always consider former players to bring them back. TJ definitely has a unique feel that connects graduates from 1960 all the way to 2009.
ZC: You are the head coach of the high school that you graduated from. How cool is that and was that always a dream of yours, or did it just work out that way?
GL: Very cool. Never once while I was attending Thomas Jefferson high school did I ever think I would be back here again. As a young person it was just where I went to high school. After high school was college and after college was the working world. And several events in life happened that spun me back here. When an opportunity at TJ opened up I took it. There’s no other place I would rather work and/or be.
ZC: Man to man or zone defense?
GL: Man to man.
ZC: Orton or Cutler?
ZC: Aisle seat or window seat?
GL: Oh, window.
ZC: Bird or Magic?
GL: Magic, not even a question.
ZC: Tom or Jerry?
GL: (laughs) Jerry
ZC: Orange juice or apple juice?
GL: Orange juice.
ZC: Brown or Gold? (TJ colors)
ZC: Mexican food or Italian food?
GL: Italian, but you can get them both at Piccolos.
ZC: Hoosiers or White Man Can’t Jump?
ZC: Derek Martin or Dan Graham? (Both TJ grad s playing in the NFL)
GL: Dee Martin!
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