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March 11, 2014

Yee-Stephens on the rise

The Santa Cruz area hasn't seen the likes of a basketball talent with national recruiting promise for more than a decade. Until now.

Kaijae Yee-Stephens, the son of former NFL football player, Reggie Stephens, is in the midst of his sophomore year at Santa Cruz High. His bonafides: after averaging 20.9 points a contest (on a team posting 64.8 points each night), Stephens was recently named the Co-MVP of the Santa Cruz County Athletic League (SCCAL).

Other accolades the 6-foot-1, 190 pound talent collected in the 2013-14 season are:

- Dad's Club Tournament MVP

- Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic all tournament selection

His biggest points outbursts were:

- 31 points versus Salinas High on December 13

- 28 points (six treys) facing Branson High on December 27

- 30 points against Harbor High on January 24

This is from someone who just turned 16.

After averaging 10.4 points as a freshman, Yee-Stephens worked to improve his dribble-drive, pull-up and post-up skill sets, hence the near doubling of his per game scoring average. Even more effort is on tap this spring and summer in order to both widen and sharpen his skills set.

Possessing shooting range in line with that of Stephon Curry, it forces opponents to pick Yee-Stephens up early on and his dribble-drive prowess makes it difficult for opponents to stay in front of him.

Here's Bob Bramlett, head of Yee-Stephens' West Valley Basketball Club, on the young man: "You just can't coach some of what Kaijae does. Since I've been coaching high school players, I've had only one other kid with Kaijae's range. He also has the best step-back shot I've ever seen. I call him 'The Natural.'" Bramlett sees an expanded role for Yee-Stephens this coming go-around with West Valley.

There will be no resting on any laurels as Yee-Stephens will also be working this spring and summer with Raymond Farris, the noted trainer who has worked with the likes of Jerry Rice, Mitch Richmond, Roger Craig, Eddie George and many more.

According to Farris, "Kaijae's long range shooting reminds me of Mitch Richmond. -- squaring up, elbows in and excellent followthrough." Richmond was one of the Golden State Warriors 'Run-TMC' trio along with Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin from back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Besides the pure technique and close to infinite range, allow this anecdote to illustrate both Yee-Stephens' court vision and unselfishness. He was double-teamed in the recent SCCAL tournament semi-finals matchup against Soquel High, this just before the final buzzer and with the Cardinals down 53-52. He whipped an on-target catch-and-shoot pass to teammate Keanon Williams who was off to the side of the key. Williams buried a trey for the buzzer-beating game-winner.

Yee-Stephens also handles it in the classroom, owning a 3.5 grade point average which already includes some advanced level courses..

Sooner rather than later, Santa Cruz County is going to be boasting of another national level recruit.


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