During an offseason workout this year, sophomore Steven Santa Ana looked at his Ardrey Kell basketball teammates and realized something.“Hey, we’re good,” Santa Ana remembers thinking. “We’ve got a shot this year. We can make some stuff happen.” The Knights finished 9-16 last season, better than only two other teams in the Southwestern 4A conference. Last year, Ardrey Kell started the season 0-4. This year, the team is off to its best start in school history, winning the first seven games of the season coming into this week. “Everyone’s coming out here hungry. They want to win this year,” Santa Ana said. The roster is nearly identical to last year, but the Knights – especially the younger players – improved from last year’s experience. The team started to get better toward the end of last season, winning games against East Mecklenburg and Rocky River and staying close in losses to Butler and Myers Park, said head coach Mike Craft.“Last year everybody on the team had to play because we were so young,” Craft said. “It was a rebuilding year for us. And toward the end of the year we were a tough out because we hung in there, we played tight.” Craft said the coaching staff last year was frustrated because the team was struggling to score. Players would get open shots but not make them. This year has been different. “It just makes a difference that you’ve got some experience back,” Craft said. Santa Ana leads in scoring. The guard went from averaging 6.3 points per game last year to averaging 20.3 points. As a freshman on the varsity team last year, Santa Ana, 16, struggled to get used to high school basketball. He was also tinkering with his shooting form most of the season. Toward the end of the season, he started feeling more comfortable and averaged more than nine points per game during the last eight games. During the summer, he kept working on his shot. In addition to playing with an AAU team, he worked out in the gym, putting countless shots up to improve his form. It’s a work ethic that Santa Ana has continued into the regular season. “He doesn’t play any other sports so his focus is solely on basketball and he’s a tremendous student of the game and he’s got a great basketball IQ,” Craft said. In the team’s opening game against Marvin Ridge, Santa Ana scored 22 points, tying a school record for three-pointers with six. He scored the same amount the next night in Ardrey Kell’s upset of then-Observer Sweet 16 No. 5 Harding.“That was huge,” he said. “Biggest win I’ve ever had here. ... We just beat a very strong basketball team and we did it all together, it wasn’t just one person going out there.” Santa Ana has scored in double digits every game this year and has scored at least 20 points all but two games. His season high is 25 against Charlotte Catholic Nov. 30. The 6-foot-3-inch sophomore is shooting as well from behind the three-point line (53 percent) as he is from two-point range. He’s also hit 77 percent of his free throws this year. “Last year I was playing timid, I wasn’t really sure, kind of trying to feel out the offense,” Santa Ana said. “I was able do get the speed of the game down last year. This year’s it’s slowed down for me so much more. I’m able to see plays that I wasn’t able to see last year. ... I can play my game now. I’m comfortable in the offense.” Santa Ana’s teammates have also played well this year. Senior point guard Preston Trout runs the offense, averaging 7.1 assists and 7.3 points per game. “He is our quarterback, he is our leader,” Craft said. “If you take him out of our lineup we wouldn’t be as good.”Craft said senior forward Tate Small has “blossomed” and is the team’s second leading scorer with 15.9 points per game. Small was cut from his middle school team and didn’t play much in his previous three years.Junior Markel Pollard is averaging 7.7 points, sophomore Collin Cooper has shown the ability to hit big shots in games this year. Senior Jonathan Freund has been working hard inside on a team that’s biggest weakness is its lack of post presence. Small is the tallest player on the team at 6 feet, 5 inches. He leads the team with 7.6 rebounds and three blocks per game. Santa Ana is the second leading rebounder with 6.6 per game. “They’ve all bought into the team concept and they work hard,” Craft said.Craft, who has coached at Ardrey Kell since the school opened seven years ago, said that Justin Cheek (now a junior at High Point) is the best guard to come out of the young school. Santa Ana has a chance to change that. Cheek “had 10 Division I offers, he’s our leading scorer in school history and at this particular point Steven is ahead of Justin,” Craft said. “They both had to play as freshmen, so they’re similar in that situation. But Steven can probably shoot the ball from the three a little better right now.” Cheek led the Knights team to their only two 4A West Regional appearances in 2009 and 2010. “Hopefully Steven can do the same things for us,” Craft said. Note: Story went to print before Ardrey Kell’s Dec. 18 game against South Mecklenburg.
Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012
Ardrey Kell off to best start in school history
Basketball team grabs 7 wins with impressive offense
Ardrey Kell sophomore Steven Santa Ana went from averaging 6.3 points last year to 20.3 this year. He's the leading scorer on a Knights team that is off to it's best start in school history.