With about two minutes left on the clock at the February 9 Boys Varsity Basketball game between Colorado Academy and Kent Denver School, CA was down by one point. As the CA team headed back to the court after a timeout, Senior Robert McKee caught the eye of Senior Co-Captain Elliott Cravitz, who was wearing his most serious game face.
“Hey,” McKee said to Cravitz, “don’t forget to smile!”
CA went on to win the game with a score of 75-70. It wasn’t the first time this season that CA players had stopped another team’s scoring run at the last minute and come out on top. Cravitz believes that the team’s success can be attributed, in part, to the close bond between players—players who remind each other to keep smiling.
“This is by far the most successful basketball team I have been on in my four years at CA,” says Cravitz. “Our motto has been, ‘We’re good!’ And we know that even if we are behind, our job is to stay calm and collected and pick each other up.”
In fact, this team is so good that it has set a record at CA—winning 17 straight games this year in regular and post-season.
“We are proud of that,” says Cravitz.
What makes them good: players’ perspective
Ask Cravitz and his fellow Co-Captain Ahbil Woldeyohannes for the main reasons they have had so much success, and they immediately talk about how the players are friends on and off the court.
“The chemistry of the team and the team bonding is huge,” says Woldeyohannes. “We are Senior heavy with eight Seniors, and we have come together to work toward a common goal. We are also mentoring the younger players because they will be replacing us.”
Both Co-Captains also praise the coaching they have received from Head Coach Steve Hyatt, and Assistant Coaches Carl Fritze, John Custy, Jon Walker, who also serves as the JV Head Coach, and Jon Hill, who is also the Upper School Assistant Athletic Director. They agree that the training they have received from Strength & Conditioning Coach Wes Kirk has been a game-changer.
“We found real discipline as a team working with Coach Wes,” Woldeyohannes says. “He has built us up both physically and mentally. Working out together as a team has also created greater team bonding and contributed to our success.”
Both Co-Captains demonstrate a level of maturity that is the foundation for a successful team.
“Even when we win, we aren’t content with the win,” says Cravitz. “We know the little things matter, and we need to keep working if we want to go far.”
“We realize that there is no superstar on this team,” adds Woldeyohannes. “No one is more important than the person to the right or to the left of you. To achieve the goals we aspire to, everyone’s role contributes to the greater success.”
What makes them good: the coach’s perspective
In his tenth year of coaching at CA, nine of those years as Varsity Basketball Head Coach, Steve Hyatt sees the success of the 2021-2022 team as a reflection of a program he has built from the ground up, with an emphasis on experience, competitive practice, and player commitment.
Starting in Grade 5, CA students interested in playing basketball are fortunate to be coached by Hyatt and other high school-level coaches. By Middle School, students can represent CA in competition and can also participate in the Gold Crown Competitive Basketball League.
Students can also take summer basketball camps at CA, where they are coached by Hyatt, who hires CA Upper School basketball players as his assistants.
“Sometimes a student says to me, ‘This is my eighth year being coached by you,” Hyatt says. “And I say, ‘Wow, I have coached you for eight years already?!’ When we coach young athletes for that long, they grow up learning our program and our system and learning from the best.”
Play for Hyatt, and you can plan on playing a lot of games. As soon as the official CHSAA season ends, Hyatt’s 3A players start a six-week spring season, playing 4A and 5A schools.
Last summer, the CA team attended four basketball camps, three at universities and one sponsored by Gold Crown. At the Gold Crown camp, the team beat a large public high school to take the camp championship.
Hyatt also has players in a fall basketball league, where they again face large public school opponents.
“We are tiny CA with 400 students in Upper School, but I make sure we play very tough competition,” says Hyatt. “Why? Because I want our players to be challenged because that is what makes them better.”
For CA players, Varsity Basketball translates into a multi-month commitment, with a break in July. Even when they are not competing, team members do group workouts where they get individual coaching on their basic skills: dribbling, passing, shooting.
For all the success of this year, what makes Coach Hyatt truly proud is that he can say this: “I never cut a kid.”
At a large school, Hyatt says, you might have 140 students come out for basketball and only 40 chosen to play. It pains him to think that there are athletes who love a sport but are told they can’t participate. That doesn’t happen with CA’s system of multiple teams, including a JV team and C-level Red and White teams.
“That’s what makes CA unique,” Hyatt says. “Anyone can get a chance to represent their school on a high school basketball team.”