The Richie Perea-to-DJ Hanes connection started years ago in peewee football. Every game would start with the team’s go-to play, a deep bomb – Perea heaving it to his teammate.
The tandem has continued to connect through years, forging a link that has grown stronger through their time at Wasson.
In football, Perea has thrown 19 touchdowns to Hanes over the past two seasons. But it’s in basketball where the pair has had the most success, with Perea leading 4A in assists as a sophomore and junior and Hanes emerging as a prolific scorer.
In doing so, the pair has helped the Wasson basketball program remain the school’s only consistent winner with five trips to state in the past six years. And this year, my oh my do they have some help.
“These are my homies,” Perea said of the Thunderbirds’ four transfers who were traveling team and middle school teammates with Perea and Hanes before splitting off to different high schools. “I’ve grown up with them since before I can remember. Since before I could walk. This is like family, honestly.”
The newcomers are Lorenz Stalcap, a 6-foot-10 senior center who most recently played as a sophomore at Doherty, Monaco Morin, a 5-10 guard from Sand Creek, Kyler Hinton, a 6-4 physical forward from Sand Creek and Dominic Garcia, a 5-9 shooing guard from Palmer.
The added talent – thrown in with returners Angel Lingao, Gabe Ehrlin and Marcellus Thomas, among others – has Wasson looking a bit like Sierra from a year ago. That Stallions team added transfers Jalen Little and Sherron Wilson to a nucleus led by Wesley Gordon and missed a 4A title only when a last-second shot bounced off the rim.
This Thunderbirds group is different in that it’s more a cast of refugees returning home than a group of all-stars merging in hopes of a championship.
“I was getting in trouble at my other school, at Palmer,” Garcia said. “I thought, why not give it another shot? This is my last year.”
Garcia initially left the group after middle school because an assistant at Palmer said he liked his talent and, as a No. 1 guard, he figured he’d be buried behind Perea at Wasson. He has since developed into more of a No. 2 guard – so he’ll largely be behind Hanes – but he’s willing to sacrifice playing time and shots to return to his former teammates.
“Basketball is the love of my life,” Garcia said. “Why not play it with people I love playing it with? Besides, I didn’t really have anywhere else to go.”
Wasson figures to benefit by landing in the 4A Metro after what was a 16-team league split in half and took Lewis-Palmer, Sand Creek and Cheyenne Mountain into what is now the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference. Plus, Sierra doesn’t figure to be as formidable as in recent years and only Coronado and Widefield appear, at this point, to be legitimate league contenders.
“I’m going to miss playing with the Cheyenne Mountains, but that’s all right,” Hanes said. “As long as we play Mitchell, I’m fine with it. We’ve got to get them back from football this year.”
The expectations for this group are understandably high.
“But it’s like I’ve told them, ‘Yeah, we have all this talent, but you’re going to have to learn how to play together,’” coach Damion Copeland said. “We can’t be selfish about playing time, we have to distribute the ball. There are pros and cons to having a team this talented.”
The major advantage is that it puts the team in position to give the school a boost it desperately needs.
The once-proud District 11 school has 10 state championship banners hanging in its gym from various sports, but none since 1999 (the lone boys’ basketball title was earned in 1978).
The school required all coaches to reapply for their jobs two years ago, retaining only a handful – including Copeland. Last year the girls’ basketball team canceled the varsity season in the season’s opening weeks after being outscored 265-29 during an 0-4 start.
The worst news came Tuesday night, when district announced that it was considering closing the school.
“It would be so great to be able to bring something that could bring joy to the school,” Garcia said. “It’s a good place.”
The key to the season undoubtedly will be keeping the Perea-to-Hanes connection at the heart of the offense as the newcomers find their roles.
“Nobody wants to disrupt that,” Garcia said.
As for Perea, he thinks the added help will only bolster a connection that may well live in the school’s lore – for however long the school remains.
“Most teams double team (Hanes),” Perea said. “Now they’re not going to be able to double team him with all the new additions. So this just makes my job easier.”
In short, the heaves to Hanes will no longer be out of desperation; and that’s good news for Wasson.