Jaxon Hiatt was at his best when his team needed him the most.
The Kelly Walsh senior, who missed four games in the middle of the season with mono, averaged 13.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in the Class 4A state tournament to help lead the Trojans to their first state championship since 1981. In the 62-49 victory over Rock Springs in the championship game Hiatt finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“Down the stretch every highlight we had was Jaxon Hiatt getting a rebound,” Kelly Walsh head coach Randy Roden said. “That’s just what he does for us. He is a guy that ties all of our talent together.
“In that fourth quarter there were so many plays he made that were big-time for us.”
The 6-foot-4 Hiatt also showed his versatility on defense.
In the first half, when Kelly Walsh center Joel Strube got in foul trouble, Hiatt was asked to defend 6-10 Rock Springs center Kelby Kramer. Then, in the second half, Hiatt switched out to help defend 6-1 Trevor Hautala, who had scored 11 first-half points. Hautala, who averaged 20.3 points per game this season, finished with 13.
Hiatt’s versatility, and his importance to the state-champion Trojans, especially in the state tournament, makes him the Star-Tribune 2016-17 Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Also in contention for the award were Hautala, Pine Bluffs senior and Wyoming signee Hunter Thompson and Riverton senior point guard Brady Fullerton.
Kelly Walsh finished 21-3, but was an even more impressive 16-1 with Hiatt in the lineup. After losing 81-73 at Rock Springs on Feb. 3 without Hiatt, the Trojans closed the season with 10 consecutive victories.
“After I missed those four games with mono I kind of had a rough start trying to get back into it,” Hiatt said. “I felt like I was trying to do too much right when I came back.”
Despite struggling from the field upon his return, Hiatt continued to do things to help the Trojans win. He averaged a team-best 8.5 rebounds per game his first four games back and solidified the defense. After the loss to Rock Springs, teams averaged just 41.6 points per game against Kelly Walsh the final 10 games.
“This year, down the stretch, we were just dominating,” Roden said, “and Jaxon was in the middle of all that.
“With so many talented players on the team you don’t want to say, ‘This is our man.’ So you’re trying to hide what you’re thinking as a coach. But we thought as a coaching staff we were going to go as far as Jaxon would take us.”
Hiatt credits his improved conditioning for helping him get back on the court after missing two weeks with mono. That conditioning also played a big role at state.
“My sophomore and junior year when we got to that second and third day at state I was winded,” he said. “This year just being in better condition really helped me during the season and especially at state.”
Hiatt, one of seven seniors on the Kelly Walsh roster, admits that winning the program’s first state title in 36 years is bittersweet.
“It’s kind of sad that it’s all over,” he said, “but getting to order (championship) rings and things like that is super exciting. It makes me feel complete. The last few years we came so close, so this year being able to put it together was phenomenal.”
Hiatt is hoping to play basketball at the next level, but because he missed time during the regular season and was often asked to play out of position, he has yet to receive any offers.
“Somebody needs to take a chance on him because his best years are way ahead of him,” Roden said.