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Little Harlem turns into big dreams for Wasson ‘brothers'
"No matter what, we can’t go to practice next week. It makes all of us want to go harder now."
It started nine years ago, a group of third-grade boys and girls working their collective hearts out trying to learn the fundamentals of basketball. For Richie Perea, DJ Hanes, Monico Morin and Dominic Garcia, they had no idea of the journey ahead.
Their team, Little Harlem, traveled through the state and around the country. Through basketball, bake sales, all-you-can-eat buffets and gas station soda, the boys matured, learned about winning, the heartbreak of losing and the real meaning of friendship.
“Man, that’s my whole life. That’s where I grew up,” Morin said. “We started out real young and we stayed together. We have this bond that’s strong, and we’re ready for anything that comes our way.”
Ultimately, all four ended up at Wasson, joined by several talented teammates and friends in what has become a season for the ages — winning 25 of 26 games and reaching the 4A boys’ state semifinals. One way or another this weekend at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, the journey will come to an end. So, too, will Wasson, set to close its doors later this spring after 54 years as one of District 11’s original cornerstones.
Wasson (25-1) meets defending 4A state champion Lewis-Palmer (23-3) at 5:30 p.m., Friday. The winner advances to meet either Broomfield or Valor Christian for the state championship at 6 p.m. Saturday. Reportedly, Wasson's only other state semifinal (and final) appearance came in 1978.
“Everything ending, I’ve thought about it a little, but I’m trying not to,” Perea said. “No matter what, we can’t go to practice next week. It makes all of us want to go harder now. This is our last week, and we want to go out with a bang.”
Perea’s father, Rich, once played on a men’s basketball team called Spanish Harlem. Many of the players had children the same age, so Perea made a few calls and assembled a team. Unable to think of a nickname, Perea modified his team’s name to something that resembled his young outfit. Little Harlem was born.
It wasn’t always pretty.
“I remember watching them for the first time on the court, and all I could think of was ‘The Bad News Bears,’ ” said Tina Morin, Monico’s mother. “They were so uncoordinated, but they were so cute out there.”
The cuteness soon yielded to domination, first locally, then at various tournaments, some in other states. The original group moved into middle school, added Marcellus Thomas and Markel Borges and hoped to stay together to continue their winning ways at high school.
The plan seemed to unravel. Garcia started high school at Palmer. Morin transferred to Sand Creek. Other players who had previously joined the team, such as Tim Clemens and Bryan Jenkins, decided to attend high school at Sand Creek. Another original Little Harlem member, Curtis Crockett, went to Mesa Ridge.
“Everyone was leaving,” Richie Perea said. “I thought we would have to play against them and have to beat them to go where we wanted to go.”
Prior to this school year, Garcia and Morin came back, and the Thunderbirds found a home for Doherty transfer Larenz Stalcup, who at 6-foot-10 gave the team much-needed size missing from two previous runs that ended in the round of 16.
While the Little Harlem athletes grew physically and became well-rounded players, those long seasons and demanding practices emboldened a trust and belief in each other that still pours forth today. When Wasson leaves its huddle, they break to the most important word to the team: “family.”
“It’s always been more about basketball, but we’ve always been brothers,” Garcia said. “I’m glad we got to grow up and experience life with each other.”
Just mentioning the name Little Harlem elicits fond memories of yesteryear. They just can’t believe the time has flown by so fast.
“We’ve been playing so long, since I was about that tall,” said the lanky 6-2 Hanes, leveling his right hand to around his waist. “It brings back a lot of good times. We watched everyone grow up. We’ve been through a lot. We’re family now and we’re friends no matter what.”
So, somewhere between “Stand by Me” and “Hoosiers,” this band of brothers, with an entire community behind them, has just one thing left to do.
“The school is closing down, but we’ll forever have something to remember,” Borges said. “The support has been amazing. We want to win the state championship to have a story behind our dedication. We’re trying to get one last banner.”
And that would be the journey’s ultimate ending.