November 28, 2014

Yee-Stephens polishing stone

Kevin McCarthy

Santa Cruz High basketball doesn't command attention in the prep hoops world because it's too out-of-the-way and with a limited talent pool from which to draw. But Cardinal junior guard Kaijae Yee-Stephens will do his best to alter that perception in the coming 2014-15 season.

The 6-foot-1 Yee-Stephens, son of former NFL defensive back Reggie Stephens who also starred at Santa Cruz High, is coming off a Co-Most Valuable Player performance in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League. He averaged 20.8 points per game, almost doubling his 10.9 as a frosh. His best game against top competition, 28 points on the basis of five treys, came against Branson High on December 27.

photo of  Kaijae Yee-Stephens

Ranked No. 17 in the 2016 prospect rankings, Yee-Stephens spent this spring and summer extending beyond his comfort zone by seeking the challenge of elevated competition. He worked with Ayinde Ubaka, the former California point who went on to play overseas and now operates the Golden State Arsenal AAU squad plus East Bay hoops trainer Kelvin 'KP' Potts who runs his Reps On Reps service. “It was really good competition and I could see where I was at and what I needed to work on,” Yee-Stephens said. “The guys worked a lot harder and were a lot more aggressive -- there's a whole different mentality. It got me out of the laid back Santa Cruz bubble.”

Plus, he is now registering 170 pounds on the scale, a drop of 10 from last season after working with cross fit trainer Kelvin Nivens. “It was about my quickness and explosiveness, all the physical aspects of my conditioning.”

Wanting to hone his shooting technique, Yee-Stephens is currently spending one weekend day with Tom Curtiss, the now retired but longtime local high school basketball coach. With his son, he operates the Shot Science enterprise. “He's helping me a lot with polishing up my shot mechanics.”

Yee-Stephens also credits Tyler Coston of Point Guard U -- “I've learned so much from him.” Attendance was the result of knowing a switch to the point is facing him in the college ranks. “Yyler taught me a variety of leadership skills and I came away with 30 pages of notes in just a week. It helps that I can reference back to them.”

Yee-Stephens is also working it in the classroom, maintaining a 3.7 unweighted grade point average. He was in honors classes last year and now AP courses.

The high school season will soon be here and the Cardinals schedule is beefed up. There will be matchups with St. Mary's (Albany), Oakland High, Skyline High, Leigh High which is coming off a 24-5 season, and more due to participation in the Palma High-hosted Scattini tournament and the St. Ignatius Sand Dune Tournament. A breakthrough victory or two would go a long way in establishing program recognition beyond the county limits.

Now nobody is predicting a Santa Cruz state championship, something that did take place back in 2005 with future DI players Junior Russell, Cliff Sammett, Austin Swift and Erik Van Vliet on the roster. But that's why the games are played.