Four years ago, Steven Santa Ana made his coach a promise: He told Ardrey Kell’s Mike Craft the Knights would win a state championship before he graduates.
So far, Santa Ana has done about everything a high school basketball player could hope to accomplish, short of winning The Ring.
He holds 10 of Ardrey Kell’s 27 school records and has supplanted former Knights great Justin Cheek as the school’s all-time best player. Among the records Santa Ana holds: single-season and career scoring, steals and rebounds, which isn’t bad for a 6-foot-3 guard whose biggest strength is a sweet 3-point shooting stroke.
He also has led Ardrey Kell to back-to-back school records for most wins in a season: 23 in 2012-13 and 24 last season, when Santa Ana took the Knights to the N.C. 4A Western Regionals. This season, the Knights are among the 4A state championship favorites, off to an 11-1 start after Monday’s thrilling 58-56 win against Victory Christian. After Victory’s Ty Gadsden tied the game with a 3-point shot with less than 10 seconds left, Santa Ana found a wide open Devin Cooper for the game-winning layup as the buzzer sounded.
Santa Ana has often been the Ardrey Kell hero for his scoring prowess. Monday he was the hero because of a great assist.
“He plays so hard and works so hard in the offseason,” Craft said. “He’ll run through a wall to get it done. He gets extra shots up all the time, and he will go anywhere to get better.”
Santa Ana was a rare freshman to play varsity at Ardrey Kell four years ago, but he caught some college coaches attention even before he entered high school. At Davidson’s basketball camp, Santa Ana was so impressive that Davidson assistant Matt McKillop asked him if he was going to be a senior in high school. He was shocked when Santa Ana told him he was going to be in 8th grade.
Several days later, Craft got a text from Davidson head coach Bob McKillop, a man Craft had worked as an assistant for in the 2005-06 season:
“Steven Santa Ana is going to be a nice player for you at Ardey Kell.”
McKillop was right.
Santa Ana averaged 10 points and five rebounds as a freshman. As a sophomore, he averaged 18.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and was named Southwestern 4A player of the year.
“You could tell he had a chance to be good as a freshman,” Craft said, “but he needed to get bigger and stronger. But he had this desire. He worked so extremely hard, and between his freshman and sophomore years he had the biggest jump.”
Last season Santa Ana averaged 17.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 steals, although he was the focal point of every opposing coaches’ game plan.
“His junior year, everybody put their best athlete on him,” Craft said. “They stopped him, at times, but he still had a great year.”
This season, the Knights may have their best team yet. Santa Ana, who signed with Elon in November, is joined by another Division I recruit in the backcourt – 6-1 guard Devin Cooper (Radford). Ardrey Kell also has good size in Josh Freund and Rhyle Scott.
So the pieces are there, and Santa Ana is averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists. This is exactly the type of team Santa Ana can use to make good on his promise to his coach.
“He’s just a great kid,” Craft said. “Great student, great person. It’s a joy to coach him. He does everything, all the little things to help us win.”