SAXTONS RIVER, Vt. – Teams usually reflect their coach for obvious reasons. A coach shapes a team with things like style of play and overall character, as well as personality, and at levels before the professional ranks the coach often shapes the team much more than a pro coach does. In the case of Vermont Academy, the idea of a team reflecting its coach takes on even more meaning because of who their coach is: the youngest in Class AA.
Jesse Bopp left the school to join the staff at VCU, and in his place is former assistant Cody Hatt. Barely half a decade out of college, Hatt has been fortunate to land in such a spot at this juncture, and he has a similarly young group with many underclassmen, including his best players.
The best of the bunch is K.J. Santos (6’7″ So. SG-SF, Geneva (IL)), who will be an elite player in his class when it’s all said and done. A very athletic wing, he impressed with his skill package as it’s not hard to envision him as a point forward-type since he can handle and pass, though it’s his shooting that will leap out at you first. He knocked down a wide variety of jumpers out to long range, including one over a big man that covered him, and he also used his left (off) hand to finish. As if that’s not enough, he was one of the few who showed some real effort guarding other players and his body still has a ways to go.
Santos’ travel teammate Tyler Jackson (7’2″ Jr. C, Naperville (IL)) also comes to the school and will grab attention with his big body. While his body is filled out, he actually has a slight frame, and when he’s in the game the Wildcats will player slower as he doesn’t run the floor exceedingly well. He showed some post scoring ability, as he knows how to use his body against a defender, and he has some range on his jumper although he has an unorthodox release.
Sedee Keita (6’9″ So. SF-PF, Middletown (DE)) is another newcomer with a lot of potential, and he showed some of it on Sunday. Very long and with a good frame, he’s a plus athlete and reasonably fluid with the ball, although the ball skills will need continued improvement. He can hit from long range and run the floor, finishing the break with contact one time.
The Wildcats complete their sophomore core with Bruce Brown (6’3″ So. SG, Boston (MA)) and Christian Vital (6’2″ So. SG, Queens (NY)). Brown is very athletic and his body has a ways to go, and offensively is more of a scorer than a shooter although he showed some promise there on the evening. He hit shots during drills and made the occasional shot from deep in game action, and he was dangerous in transition. Vital has a slight frame and is a plus athlete, and while he can shoot, it’s not his forte and his shot selection left something to be desired. He did go inside and get offensive boards and stickbacks from the perimeter.
The one other junior besides Jackson is local boy Miles Hearon (6’2″ Jr. SG, Saxtons River (VT)), whose body has a ways to go and can shoot.
The only two players who will be done this year are Tyler Harville (6’0″ Sr. SG, Lexington (KY)) and Porter Veach (5’11” Sr. PG-SG, Winnetka (IL)). You could describe Harville by simply saying, “he can shoot,” but that doesn’t do justice to what he did on the evening. While he made numerous shots from all over the court, including several from NBA three-point range, the mature-bodied guard also hit a runner in the lane and a tough mid-range shot as he was fading to his right on the baseline, and later spun and drove by Santos for a layup. But make no mistake about it: his value is shooting the ball, and he shoots it well enough that despite being undersized he’ll end up being a scholarship player at the next level because few players can do it like he can. Veach had some good moments on the evening, including a mid-range jumper over his man, a floater and an off-balance mid-range jumper.
The Wildcats will play in plenty of tournaments and events this season, starting with the National Prep Showcase and continuing with the Hoop Mountain Prep Classic, Scholar Roundball Classic, St. Andrew’s Holiday Classic, BABC Prep Classic and National Prep School Invitational. Aside from that, a date with Northfield Mount Hermon highlights the slate outside of the NEPSAC Class AA slate.
Hatt is a ball of energy and can talk a mile a minute. He’s been involved in the game for a while now and has earned this opportunity, and he understands what’s going on. He speaks of building a program, of being there for his players and getting buy-in from showing how he cares about them, and that includes in his main work as the Assistant Dean of Students at the school. This is someone who isn’t wet behind the ears as he gets his shot to lead a program, and as he said, he’s ready to grow up along with his players.
For his first season, Hatt has a team with good talent that needs to grow. There are good pieces, and if they all come together by the time March rolls around, this team could be as dangerous as any in Class AA. They may at first glance be a team of the future, but as this team reflects the coach, they can be pretty good right now as well.