Colorado Prep opened its virtual doors just in time for a trio of local basketball players.

After most of the big summer AAU basketball circuits were shut down amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Donta Dawson, Tayzhean Archuleta and Xavier Sterling, three of Harrison’s top players on Class 4A playoff teams the last couple of years, decided they needed to get their games in front of more coaches. To do so, they each decided to forgo their final opportunity to play against local competition this winter to play with Colorado Prep in its first season as a member of The Grind Session, a national competition with an impressive alumni list that includes Nuggets Jamal Murray and Bol Bol.

“The prep circuit is really a big scouting point, and so was the AAU season,” Dawson said. “Since one of them got taken away, I need the other, for sure.”

That sentiment was echoed by Archuleta and Sterling, though they said they’ll miss the opportunity to compete for a state championship with the Panthers in 2021.

“I’ll never forget the memories at Harrison,” Archuleta said. “That was definitely some of the funnest years of my life so far, and I just thank the Harrison community, coaches, everyone. It was an awesome time.”

The timing could’ve been a little better for the Harrison High School boys’ basketball program, which will lose its top six scorers from last year's 19-5 squad. Harrison athletic director Al Melo released a statement to The Gazette but declined an interview, as did boys’ basketball coach Eric Kaiser.

“All I will say is that I wish them the best and thank them for their time at Harrison High School,” Melo’s statement read.

The trio, all boasting grade-point averages north of 4.0, plan to finish their schooling online — Archuleta and Sterling hope to continue concurrent enrollment programs that would see them graduate with associate degrees — and commute to Denver for games, practices and training sessions. They will play for a program founded by Xavier Silas, a former Colorado Buffalo who went on to a professional career, and his father James, another former pro.

“They’re good kids with good GPAs, and they’re good on the court,” Silas said. “I think they’ll get a chance to showcase what they can do at a high level. It’s just a great opportunity for them."

Dawson, who led Harrison with 18.1 points per game and added averages of 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2 steals and 1 block, wants to show he can produce similar numbers on a national scale. Archuleta, second on the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game with a team-best 3.4 assists, wants to establish himself as a versatile defender and knockdown shooter after making 34% of his 3-pointers as a junior. Sterling, with his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame, wants to prove he’s more than a bully in the paint after posting averages of 7.3 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds. Their collective goal is college scholarships.

“Because of COVID, we had to do something,” Sterling said.

“I always told my parents I was going to make sure they don’t have to worry about paying for college, and I couldn’t do that staying here. That was definitely a big factor.”

Dawson said few college programs outside the local area have come to his high school games despite his individual and team success. Most college coaches opt to spend recruiting budgets on traveling to summer tournaments or higher-profile high school competitions where there’s more talent in one place. Harrison’s leading scorer the last two years believes that increased exposure can be the difference between a scholarship from a Division I school and only being looked at by lower-level programs.

Dawson, Archuleta and Sterling said they plan to play at the next level regardless of what level they end up being recruited to, and they believe Colorado Prep is their best bet to get where they want to go.

“I hear what they say, and I get it if you are that much of an elite player, then, yeah, you’re going to get looked at, but we have been looked at and it’s just not the potential we believe that we have,” Archuleta said. “We just want to take it (to) greater standpoints and just show what we have on a nationwide standpoint instead of the just the state.”