Editor’s Update: CA Boys Basketball took the title of Regional Champions by beating St. Mary’s (Colorado Springs) 62-57 in the Sweet 16 match-ups. CA heads to the Great 8 for the sixth time in seven years on Thursday, playing Lutheran High School at the University of Denver Hamilton Gym.
The opening of the new Field House is, quite literally, a “game-changer” at Colorado Academy.
For Upper School Girls and Boys Basketball, it will mean that no team is required to travel off-campus to practice. And that may result in even more enthusiasm for CA Basketball, which has seen double-digit increases in the percentage of student participation this year—21 percent more boys joined a team and 15 percent more girls.
“The kids are having an amazing experience when they go out for basketball,” says Assistant Athletic Director Jon Hill. “We don’t cut students. We make everyone feel they are part of a program where they are valued and appreciated.”
During the 2017-18 season, CA is fielding four boys teams and three girls teams. For Hill, this means juggling practice and game schedules for 70 student-athletes, but he never loses sight of the real purpose of the sport.
“We are teaching these students more than just basketball,” he says. “We are teaching them life lessons—responsibility, accountability, sportsmanship, teamwork, time management, and resilience.”
‘A season is like a mini-life’
Junior DeAnte Dennis, universally known as “Dee,” will tell you “basketball is my life.”
“I’ve been playing since I was young, and I fell in love with the game,” he says. “If there is any place I know myself completely, it’s on the basketball court.”
Dennis says the Varsity team prides itself on “team chemistry,” because the group has played together since freshman year, with the bond strengthened by friendships among players off the court. He raves about the CA fans. They are so energetic, he says, that he can recognize the voices of individual fans when he is on the court. For Dennis, basketball is not limited to a winter season—it’s year-round, thanks to a robust program developed by CA Varsity Basketball Coach Steve Hyatt.
Hyatt vowed to create a “competitive basketball culture” at CA when he came to the school six years ago. He is assisted by John Custy (Assistant Varsity Coach), Carl Fritze (Junior Varsity Coach) and Jon Hill (C-Team Coach). To help build a basketball culture, Hyatt now runs basketball camps for students as young as fourth grade. He and his assistants also coach Gold Crown basketball teams for students starting in the fifth grade. “I’m not just looking at one season—I’m building a program,” Hyatt says. “If kids have been coached by us since they were 10 years old, they learn our system at a young age. At CA, academics progress in a systematic way—and so do athletics.”
Hyatt also teaches students his personal philosophy along the way. “We are teaching lifelong lessons about being the best you can be,” he says. “A season is like a mini-life. You have good times and bad times, but with hard work, perseverance, and dedication you learn to fight through adversity.” That philosophy sticks with his athletes. Players he coached more than 30 years ago still call him, send cards, and wish him well. They may have forgotten the games, but they remember the relationships they built with him and their teammates.
Hyatt believes the new Field House is a facility that is second to none in Colorado. “It says ‘Athletics matter here,’” he says. Dennis is also excited to break in the new Field House courts. But no matter where he plays, Dee Dennis will always hear the voice of his coach in his head. “Prior proper planning prevents poor performance,” he says, quoting Hyatt. And if Dennis ends up achieving his dream goal—playing Division I basketball—there’s no doubt that the relationships he built at CA will serve him well on the court and in the classroom.
‘A good basketball school’
Senior Camryn Beall has played basketball since Middle School, but she says CA girls’ dedication to the support has “skyrocketed” since Coach Cyndi Graziano (known universally as “Coach G”) came to CA. “Her message is work hard and enjoy the game,” Beall says. “That flipped a switch in our heads, and her care for each player and dedication to the program has helped everyone.”
It’s tough to imagine how Coach G finds time to do it all. In addition to her varsity coaching duties at CA, she also teaches AP World History, and she is Chair of the Social Studies Department at Bear Creek High School. But none of that stops her from starting every practice and game with a plan in hand. “I’m a teacher first,” Graziano says. “I plan a practice just like I plan a lesson in AP World History.”
Born with a club foot which was corrected by surgery when she was a toddler, Coach G went on to play high school and college basketball. She draws from her personal experience in her coaching. “I tell the kids that [being born with a club foot] was never an excuse,” she says. “It was a challenge I had, and if they face challenges, they can overcome them if they believe in themselves.”
Before each game, Coach G hands each player a paper with an inspirational quote and a personalized motivational message applying to that game. With 27 years of coaching experience, 14 of those as a head coach, Graziano estimates that she has prepared more than 5,000 of these “quote papers” for countless athletes.
Graziano gives credit to the entire basketball coaching staff: Connie Rains (Junior Varsity), Sara Mackleberg (C-Team), and Danny Williams (Assistant Varsity and Sports Psychologist). Clearly, though, she sets the tone for the teams. “I’ve coached at other schools, but I love it here,” she says. “CA athletes don’t make excuses. They adapt to achieve goals. When I walk into the gym with them, I am in my happy place.”
Beall, who is one of two seniors on the varsity team, describes the atmosphere that Graziano has created as “completely encouraging.” She says the team is very excited to move into the new Field House with the flexibility it will provide for scheduling practices. When she graduates this year, she will “pass the team down” to her younger sister, Kendall, who also plays. She is optimistic for basketball’s future at CA under Graziano. “We want respect,” Beall says. “We want to be known as a good basketball school, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”