Best Nugget 2002 | Juwan Howard | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Baffled Denverites who can name four current Denver Nuggets deserve some kind of prize -- a Dan Issel bobble-head doll, perhaps? -- but Juwan Howard has emerged as the star acquisition in the big midseason trade that sent whiny guard Nick Van Exel and slow white guy Raef LeFrentz to Dallas. With injured Antonio McDyess limited in terms of minutes, Howard is leading Mike Evans's semi-resurgent Nuggets in scoring and rebounds; his sheer toughness in the post has given GM Kiki Vandeweghe new hope that he can finally build a winner at the Pepsi Center -- otherwise known as Avland.
In his first season with the Colorado Rapids, Scottish forward John Spencer set new franchise records for goals (14) and points (35) while infusing a mediocre (5-13-8) club with a never-say-die attitude and a workhorse ethic. The 31-year-old played previously for Chelsea and Everton in the English Premiere League and gave up big money on the far side of the Atlantic to play Major League Soccer in the United States. Teammates here quickly recognized his spirit and leadership skills: He's been named team captain for 2002.
Anyone who has the legendary Patrick Roy in the nets, Rob Blake on defense, Joe Sakic at center and three or four of the best young players in the NHL scrapping just to get in the game might look like a pretty fair hockey coach. But Bob Hartley doesn't mail it in. His Colorado Avalanche fought their way to a second Stanley Cup win last season without the services of major star Peter Forsberg, and they're leading their division by daylight this season despite the retirement of Raymond Bourque. Now in his fourth season here, Hartley keeps his Avs focused and sharp through any crisis, and those despised Detroit Red Wings better look out again come playoff time.
When Metropolitan State College's basketball team won its first NCAA Division II national championship two years ago, it was ranked number one in the country. The Roadrunners grabbed their second title this season from the lowly number-22 spot. That is testament to the skills of fifth-year head coach Mike Dunlap, who preaches impenetrable defense and disciplined shooting. The 'runners finished 29-6 this year, after upsetting defending champion (and old foe) Kentucky Wesleyan in the Division II title game, and the club's top two scorers -- Patrick Mutombo and Luke Kendall -- will return next year. But will Dunlap? Division I schools are more interested than ever in Metro's 44-year-old coaching wizard.
While Denver's pro football, baseball, basketball and soccer teams looked up from the bottom of their leagues, the Colorado Avalanche continued to make history. Last spring Bob Hartley's troops knocked off powerhouses like Los Angeles and St. Louis en route to a Stanley Cup finals showdown with the New Jersey Devils. Longtime Boston Bruin Ray Bourque won the nation's heart by winning his first Cup here in Denver; goalie Patrick Roy showed again why he is the best in the history of the game; Joe Sakic shone, and the Avs' solid defense handily shut down the New Jersey attack. Is there another Cup in the offing this year? The guys in the $300 seats on the blue lines think so.
It's been quite a year at the ice rinks, what with the Avs winning the Stanley Cup and George Gwozdecky's resurgent University of Denver Pioneers hockey team reviving memories of former DU stars like Peter McNab, Keith Magnuson and Craig Patrick. After breezing to their first Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship since 1986 and a WCHA tournament win behind great defense and a pair of superb goaltenders, the DU team stumbled against underdog Michigan in the NCAA playoffs. But the club's 32-8-1 record and strong roster of returning starters bodes well for the future of a program that had been in decline.
The latest Australian import to beef up coach Mike Dunlap's national-championship basketball program at Metropolitan State College, 6-4 sophomore guard Luke Kendall averaged 15.2 points per game this season and stole the ball 77 times in his first thirty games while snagging 91 rebounds. Dunlap had five Aussies on the roster when the Roadrunners won their first NCAA Division II national championship in 2000; Melbourne native Kendall was invaluable in this year's second title-winning effort.
No one personifies the resurgence of DU hockey like goalie Wade Dubielewicz. For much of the regular season, he and teammate Adam Berkhoel were the most effective "two-headed goalie" in the college game, but at crunch time, coach George Gwozdecky turned to "Dooby" to seal the nets. His .943 saves percentage led the nation as he won his second straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association goaltending title and was named to the all-WCHA first team. A 5'10" junior from Invermere, British Columbia, he idolized Avalanche star Patrick Roy as a child and was delighted when his hero paid a surprise visit to the Pioneers' locker room in February. Dubielewicz is one of ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, which honors the nation's best collegiate player.
In the ultra-tough Big 12 Conference, only two basketball players averaged a rare "double-double" in points and rebounds during the regular season. The first was consensus All-American Drew Gooden, star of the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks; the other was Colorado's Stephane Pelle, a 6'9" junior forward from Yaounde, Cameroon. The Buffaloes had another bad hoops year (15-14; 5-11 in the Big 12), but Pelle scored 12.8 points per game and grabbed 10.8 rebounds to put himself in elite company. He shot 48 percent from the floor and sank 77 percent of his free throws; best of all, he's got another season left in Boulder.
The last remaining player from the great 1998-99 CSU team that went 33-3 and reached the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament, senior forward Angie Gorton was the captain and undisputed leader of this year's tournament-bound club and the Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year. Her 81.3 free-throw percentage was the envy of the league, and this season the Eufala, Oklahoma, native gained second place on CSU's career-steals list (260) and ranks all-time third in blocked shots (67). Next up for Gorton: pro ball in Europe.

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