Before this season, Ardrey Kell’s star player, sophomore Steven Santa-Ana, insists he wasn’t much of a shooter. That’s kind of weird coming from a guy who put a scare into Southwestern 4A conference coaches every time he pulled up for a shot behind the 3-point line this season.
“Honestly,” Santa-Ana said after a ho-hum 24-point effort against South Mecklenburg in a 44-34 playoff win Monday, “up until this year, I wasn’t really a shooter.”
Truthfully, Santa-Ana had always been pretty decent from outside, but he used to put up more of a set-shot, and when Ardrey Kell coach Mike Craft challenged him to start shooting a jump shot – mainly so he could get his shot off against high school varsity competition – Santa-Ana struggled with the change.
So over the summer, he met Craft at school around 8 each morning, probably well before many of his friends had awakened or turned on “SportsCenter,” and Santa-Ana would start shooting with a machine that shoots ball after ball to him in different spots on the court and also collects nearly all makes and misses.
Using the machine, called The Gun, Santa-Ana would get up anywhere from 600 to 800 shots per session.
When the current season started, Santa-Ana’s new jump shot was ready, and using that weapon, he’s become one of the most dangerous offensive players in the county.
He has led Ardrey Kell (23-5) to a school-record for wins and a second round playoff game Wednesday against Greensboro Dudley or Jamestown Ragsdale.
“I like Santa-Ana’s game,” said Independence coach Preston Davis, whose team topped Ardrey Kell in the Southwestern 4A tournament finals last week. “He’s a good shooter and really works to get good looks. He doesn’t really take bad shots. I think his future is bright.”
Monday, Santa-Ana mixed in three-point shots and a couple of post up moves with a bevy of pull-ups. He’s quicker than you think and goes to the basket with bad intentions.
When South Mecklenburg tried to overplay him to prevent him from getting the ball, Santa-Ana faked like he was going toward the sideline, got the defender to shift, then zipped the other way to the basket, receiving a pass for a couple of easy lay-ups.
“Teams are really trying to deny him the ball,” Ardrey Kell assistant coach Ryan Shinn said. Shinn coached Monday’s game when head coach Craft left suddenly after getting news of his mother becoming very ill in Hickory. “And that’s why we have so many back door looks for him. Those are some really good plays coach Craft has put in.”
Santa-Ana, a 6-foot-3 guard, leads the Knights in scoring (18.5 points). He’s second in rebounding (5.9) to senior Tate Small (7.0). He’s second in steals (1.6) to senior Preston Trout (2.2), and he’s second to Trout in assists (6.6 to 1.8).
Shinn said Santa-Ana also leads the team in charges taken, including a hard one he took from South Meck’s biggest player in the second half Monday.
The Sabres’ forward came flying down the court, with the ball, with a full head of steam. Santa-Ana stood right in and took the blow.
“He took it right on the chest,” Shinn said. “But he does anything this team needs.”