Steve Hyatt, center, celebrates with players and coaches after defeating Kent Denver in the Showdown Series in January 2024.

After 200 CA Wins, Basketball Coach Steve Hyatt Knows What Matters

A familiar presence in the southwest Denver high school basketball world for nearly four decades, Colorado Academy Boys Basketball Head Coach Steve Hyatt is not only a respected nurturer of standout players and teams, but also an astute observer and historian of how young men in this part of the state play what he calls “the purest sport.” 

So when his Mustangs reached the March 8 semifinals of the 2024 CHSAA 4A Basketball State Tournament, facing longtime rivals the Kent Denver Sun Devils, wisdom and experience were on his side when he told them, “The scoreboard does not define who the Colorado Academy Varsity Boys Basketball team is.”

What truly defines the Mustangs, he went on, is “the way we walk onto the court, the way we warm up, the way we compete. In everything we do, we strive to be the better team.”

Throughout the 2023-2024 basketball postseason, Hyatt worked to impress upon his players not just the importance of stepping up in every way, but, even more importantly, their place in the lineage of CA Boys Basketball—a program whose growth and success he has driven since his arrival on South Pierce Street 12 years and 200-plus wins ago.

“This is not just a basketball team, or even just a school,” Hyatt often told the squad. “It’s a community of players and families, the students who come out to cheer for us, and it’s a community of all those competitors who came before you, too. People are watching us—all over the state, and across the country. So these final games, they’re about more than any of us.”

Hyatt celebrating his 200th CA win at a home game in February 2024

And now, facing the No. 1-ranked Sun Devils in the Denver Coliseum, the boys came through, representing the school by fighting their hardest and counting meaningful contributions from every player on the floor during a fast, competitive battle. Though it wasn’t their day—Kent defeated CA 68-56 to go on to the State Championship game—the Mustangs did everything that Hyatt could have hoped they would.

“I always say, as long as we hold ourselves to the standards that we set, and we don’t beat ourselves, then even when we lose, we still look our opponent in the eye and say, ‘Great game. You’re a helluva team,’” explains Hyatt. “That’s what happens in this sport—sometimes a team will just play better than you. But if all we’re doing out on the court is teaching kids how to shoot, pass, and dribble, then we’ve failed them.”

“For me,” Hyatt continues, “winning is teaching my players how to be accountable, what it is to have a dream, what it means to have goals, what it is to work hard and compete. If I can do that, then I can’t ask for more.”

Culture and chemistry

Hyatt began to preach the philosophy that would come to define CA Boys Basketball starting the moment he first joined as assistant coach. It was a time, he says, when the school—so successful in sports like field hockey, lacrosse, tennis, and golf—didn’t yet have a strong basketball culture. 

He had been coaching varsity at nearby Bear Creek High School since 1985, and was one of the youngest and winningest basketball coaches in that school’s history. He worked with up-and-coming players in the area, too, one of whom was an elementary-aged Justin Bassey ’16, a close friend of his son, Christian ’16. Bassey’s father encouraged Hyatt to consider CA when Christian was looking at high schools, and when he was accepted, he says, “I decided to come to CA with him.”

Justin Bassey in 2016

In short order, Hyatt was helping the Mustangs win more than ever, leading the program to its first-ever appearances in the State Championship finals. He mentored numerous talented student-athletes, including Bassey—who, after a notable high school career at CA, during which he earned the division’s Player of the Year Award, went on to become a decorated starting guard with the Harvard Crimson as well as the CEO of a tech startup—and his own son, who later played point guard for the Colorado Christian Cougars. How did such a turnaround occur? “We did it by getting in the gym and working our tails off.”

Hyatt tells the story of losing a big postseason game in one of his first years as coach. “We lost the State Championship by one point on a Saturday night. On Sunday morning, we had kids in the gym. They wanted to get back to it—just start practicing for next year.” The five-month high school basketball season may be a “grind,” as Hyatt describes it, but his players were and still are motivated by the joy of competing for their team and for their community.

Hyatt speaks to players after a narrow postseason loss in 2013.

“One of the things we teach here at CA is that life is competition,” Hyatt says. “You compete to get into this school, and you’ll compete to get into a great college and career. My job is to create the team chemistry where they’re competing for each other. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Steve, how do you get your kids to play so hard?’ The answer is simple: They want to play for their brothers. I always tell my guys, one of the greatest times you’ll ever have in your life is playing high school basketball.”

‘Everybody cares’

After guiding the Mustangs to a half-dozen State Championship games, in the process accumulating enough wins to push his all-time total over 400, Hyatt acknowledges that what’s been most important year after year is the connections he gets to build with his players. “I know it sounds corny to say that the wins don’t matter, but it’s true: What you really get a kick out of in this sport is the relationships.”

Citing the continuing conversations he has with the likes of Bassey and another recent CA standout, Andrew Koclanes ’23—who was recruited to play with the Caltech Beavers as a starting guard-forward his freshman year—Hyatt observes, “The great thing about CA is that here, it’s cool to be smart, and it’s cool to be an athlete. Everyone wants to be here, and everyone cares. That’s not the case at a lot of schools, but it’s what makes CA special.”

When Hyatt mentions even more names—Elliott Cravitz ’22, recruited to play for Bates College, and classmate Ahbil Woldeyohannes ’22, recipient of the Dean’s Scholarship at Chapman University—it becomes even clearer that, indeed, the camaraderie’s the thing. Many of his former players, in fact, come back to CA to coach during his popular summer basketball camps, which ensure Hyatt’s wide network of families and student-athletes continues to grow. The nearly year-round “pipeline” that Hyatt nurtures now also includes CA’s own Middle School basketball program and the Gold Crown Competitive Basketball League.

Hyatt and Bassey in 2017

“The Colorado Academy Boys Varsity Basketball team plays for all of these—for the Justin Basseys, the Christian Hyatts, the player who was here 25 years ago and sent me an email wishing me luck,” Hyatt recounts. “That’s what I call a basketball culture, when you recognize your place not just on a team of brothers, but among a long line of successful squads and athletes.”

“It’s not about the superstars,” continues Hyatt. “Some teams have those; that might even be more typical. But at CA, we have a strong group of good players: This year, it’s Seniors George Buyers, Jason Bratis, Clyde Love, Simeon Woldeyohannes, Michael McKee, and others. A lot has to go right to win a State Championship game, but you’ll never lose those friendships and the community that you play for.”