Hunter Kraiza (above, last season) was originally focusing on playing D-I baseball before COVID derailed his plans. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Christy Selagy (@ChristySelagy)
Two years ago, Hunter Kraiza wasn’t thinking about playing college basketball at all. His sights were set on Division I baseball—the summer after his sophomore year, he was in contact with Princeton, and seemed to be on the path to pitching for the Tigers.
Then, COVID eliminated his junior baseball season and the usual summer ball camps and activities. Even though players across the country were in the same situation, missing a full high school season is a big hit to anyone’s recruitment. And then, with the NCAA issuing an eligibility waiver for spring 2020 athletes, Princeton’s baseball staff told Kraiza they wouldn’t have a spot for him because of their returning players.
Disappointing? Sure. But Kraiza didn’t let that deter him.
“Originally, I was just going to play baseball in college, but then COVID happened and it changed colleges for me,” Kraiza said. “It closed some doors and opened new ones. I thought, why not just go play both (baseball and basketball) in college?”
It wasn’t a crazy thought. Last season, after Haverford won its first Central League boys basketball title in 50 years, Cabrini's basketball coaches reached out to Kraiza and asked him to keep in touch.
That had been in the back of his mind since, and, after D-I baseball was off the table, Kraiza started to think about Cabrini’s offer more seriously. Though the Cavaliers intially reached out to him for basketball, once Kraiza got in contact with the baseball coaching staff, they were interested, too. He also received two-sport opportunities from Widener and Centenary (among others), but once he saw Cabrini for himself it was an easy choice.
“I got invited to visit their campus, and I fell in love with them,” Kraiza said. “I love their coaches. They’re so great to me, and I love their facilities and it just felt like the place for me.”
Cabrini’s campus and court were enough to convince Kraiza it was the right place for him, but, as a bonus, Haverford baseball teammates Ryan Brown and Matt Tucker were also planning to play for the Cavs the following year.
Kraiza committed to Cabrini in December, before Haverford’s basketball season began. Of course, leading up to that, there hadn’t been any guarantee Haverford would have a basketball season, which Kraiza tried not to think about. Instead, he hoped for the best and focused on getting ready for the season.
Part of that preparation was improving on defense. It was a simple enough mindset: Kraiza wanted to disrupt the opposing teams’ offense as much as possible, and whoever he was guarding wasn’t going to score or even get near the basket.
“He really became a better defensive player this year on the defensive end and he grew much more,” Haverford boys baskeball head coach Keith Heinerichs said. “Like, he was asked to cover tougher assignments this year as a senior and I think that’s where I saw his growth most.
Kraiza (above, last season) will play forward for the Cav's basketball squad and pitch for the baseball team. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
“I think he has a lot of upside because of his size,” Heinerichs added. “Big guys just get better with age. He already has a good feel for the game. He’s got good hands, he’s got good feet, and now he just needs to improve on these things at the next level, as far as ball handling and his passing and his shooting, like those individual skills, but I think that will only get better. And with his height, it makes him a great asset at the Division III level.”
At 6-foot-6, Kraiza is set to be one of the tallest guys on Cabrini’s basketball and baseball teams—on the current rosters, only two players on each squad are 6-foot-4 or taller.
“I think [my height] is going to help me a lot because I’m primarily a shooter and I think it’ll help me shoot over people,” Kraiza said. “Also on defense, grab rebounds and help my team.”
Kraiza will be looking to help Cabrini establish itself in the Atlantic East Conference (AEC); the Cavaliers joined the conference in the 2018-19 season, after spending 1993-2018 in the Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC), where they were perennial contenders.
The team played only two games this season and finished under .500 in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but have a long history of winning. Since the 1974-75 season, the Cavs have gone 854-401 (.680). They’ve won 14 conference championships since 1993, and made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances since 1988.
Tim McDonald took the reins as head coach in the 2014-15 season, compiling a 92-72 (.561) record in that time. He was named CSAC coach of the year for the 2017-18 season, when the Cavs went 25-4, won the CSAC championship, and made their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“In basketball, I love to win, and I know that they’re a winning school,” Kraiza said. “(The baseball team is) so new and I want to make an impact and I feel like on a newer team, we can do something. I want to make a name for us.”
Cabrini’s baseball team has only played three full seasons (COVID cut the 2020 season short after 13 games), but established a fast upward trajectory in that time. In its inaugural season in 2017, the team went 10-22 (.313), and improved to 20-19 (.513) the following year.
In 2019, the Cavs finished 31-11 (.738), including an 11-1 conference mark to win the regular season crown, which earned head coach Nick Weisheipl AEC and Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference coach of the year honors. Through their first 10 games this season, the Cavs are 6-4, including a perfect 4-0 conference record.
So, for someone like Kraiza who likes winning, baseball, and basketball, it’s the perfect fit, despite the curveballs that COVID threw at his recruitment.
“I'm just excited to make an impact and help the school as much as I can in both sports,” Kraiza said. “My goal is to win a championship. We got one in high school. How great would it be to get one in college?”