• Douglas County sophomore guard and team captain Jaeton Hackley.

There is to be a 2021 Colorado high school basketball season — although nothing is certain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Basketball practices for boys and girls were to begin on Jan. 18 and competition had the go-ahead to start on Jan. 25, but the season will definitely look and be different.

The Colorado High School Activities Association gained a variance from the state and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to allow 24 total players on a team, plus coaches and trainers.

Modifications were announced for the upcoming season and masks must be worn by players during games. There will be a 14-game regular season in all classes. Postseason play in Class 3A will have a 24-team bracket, with 32-team brackets in Class 4A and 5A.

Players will be limited to 76 total quarters in the season, exclusive of overtime and post-season games. There will be no consolation games during the 2021 state tournaments, which are now scheduled for March 19-20. League champions automatically qualify for postseason play, and the CHSAA Seeding Index will determine at-large qualifiers.

“I do think that most coaches are just thrilled for the kids that they will get to play,” said Rock Canyon girls coach Becky Mudd.

Boys coaches that responded to questions favored Valor Christian, ThunderRidge and Regis Jesuit as the top teams in the south metro area, which includes the Douglas County and Littleton public schools, some Cherry Creek schools, plus Valor Christian and Lutheran high schools.

Valor Christian has Amondo Miller, AJ Kula and DJ Burrage coming back off last year’s 20-6 team that made the CHSAA’s Final Four before the season was canceled because of COVID concerns. ThunderRidge has good size with Zack Keller and Joey Bilello and depth and leadership from Nolan Marold and Garrett Arnold. Regis will once again be a tough squad to handle with the senior guidance of Ty Bergman, Mike Wolfe, Blakeley Stoughton and Alonzo Paul.

Cherry Creek, led by last season’s top 5A scorer in Julian Hammond and Myles Purchase, will be a boys team to watch while Ben Bowen and Mountain Vista could have another strong team.

Lutheran will have one of the highly regarded boys teams in Class 3A.

Grandview, Regis Jesuit, Valor Christian and Highlands Ranch are among the south metro area’s preseason most prominent girls teams.

The Grandview Wolves return 6-foot-7 Lauren Betts, last season’s leading 5A rebounder with a 11.2 average and who also scored 17.8 points per game, along with Addison O’Grady and Marya Hudgins to form a strong nucleus. Regis is led by Avery Van Sickle, and the Raiders will be another team that will be feared. Valor has lost Reagan Beers to an ACL injury but Kindyll Wetta, Jenna Siebert, Haley Huard and Skyler Boylan will provide the Eagles with abundant talent to go far in the playoffs. Highlands Ranch will be without Taylor Ray, who is in a battle against cancer, but the Falcons return Payton Muma to help form the foundation for a competitive team.

A few of the top returning boys south metro players are Hammond (Cherry Creek), Miller (Valor Christian), Baye Fall (Lutheran), Bowen (Mountain Vista), Terrance Ferguson (Heritage), Bergman (Regis Jesuit), Jalen Weaver (Smoky Hill), Marold (ThunderRidge), Kula (Valor Christian), Purchase (Cherry Creek), Nate Gravagno (Englewood), Jaeton Hackley (Douglas County), Wolf (Regis Jesuit), Keller (ThunderRidge), Braden Boley (Chaparral), Tanner Lamb (Legend), Stoughton (Regis Jesuit), Arnold (ThunderRidge), Tommy Apodaca (Lutheran) , Garrett Siebert (Legend), Paul (Regis Jesuit), Bilello (ThunderRidge), Sean Evans (Legend), Jason Simental (ThunderRidge) and Reid Fornstrom (Littleton).

A list of some of the top south metro returning girls players includes Muma (Highlands Ranch), Van Sickle (Regis Jesuit), Wetta (Valor Christian), Siebert (Valor Christian), Betts (Grandview), Makena Vetter (Rock Canyon), Stephanie Schultz (Lutheran), O’Grady (Grandview), Liberty Line (Ponderosa), Trinity Grambush (Smoky Jill), Kacee Kyle (Cherry Creek), Avery Bang (Chaparral), Kinzie Whitehead (Legend), Boylan (Valor Christian), Hudgins (Grandview), Huard (Valor Christian), Jordan Johnson (Regis Jesuit), Abby Wrede (Cherry Creek), Sam Crispe (Arapahoe), Alex Pirog (Highlands Ranch), Samantha Jones (Regis Jesuit), Leaya McKinney (Castle View) and Payton Bang (Chaparral).