Jana Van Gytenbeek leaves Cherry Creek as a girls basketball legend

Cherry Creek Arapahoe girls basketball

(PaulDiSalvoPhotography.com)

Two years ago, Clint Evans was still a little unsure if he wanted to take the girls basketball coaching job at Cherry Creek. It would mean heading to Colorado from Kansas and there were just too many uncertainties that came with such a big decision.

Then a blessing in disguise happened. A friend of his in Golden sent him a highlight reel of one of Cherry Creek's top players, a girl heading into just her junior year.

Evans couldn't get packed soon enough.

He just needed to watch a few minutes of film to see that Jana Van Gytenbeek was a special player and one that any coach in the country should want to coach.

"Off the dribble, she threw a right-handed bounce pass from one free throw line to the other free throw line that hit a kid right in stride," Evans recalls. "I have never seen a female basketball player do that."

Van Gytenbeek has a tendency of doing things that most players her age don't or haven't done. Her love of basketball started early and it started from seeing her older brother, Carter, play.

She played with him when she was younger and the passion for the game just stuck. But her development into the player that is now a two-time Class 5A girls basketball Player of the Year started when her parents put her on a very specific path in youth basketball.

"When I started playing, I played against boys," Van Gytenbeek said. "That made me more competitive and made me want to keep playing."

The more she played, the better she got. She got so good that Stanford University offered her a college scholarship and she jumped at the chance as she identified Stanford as her dream about as early in the recruiting process as possible.

When she heads to Palo Alto, she'll join two former Colorado standouts in Regis Jesuit's Fran Belibi and Discovery Canyon's Ashten Prechtel. Seeing the two contribute to the team as freshmen this season made her anxious to get to California, but she wanted to make sure she savored every minute of her high school experience as possible.

Grandview Cherry Creek girls basketball

(Jack Eberhard/JacksActionShots.com)

"I've been excited about that ever since I committed, but I always try to be present in what I was doing," Van Gytenbeek said. "I think I did a good job of that."

Her final two seasons at Creek will be talked about as tall tales that seemingly happened in a different time. Since she was in sixth grade, she was dreaming of winning a state basketball title for the Bruins. But she knew dreams don't come true without the work. Evans saw firsthand just how committed to that goal she was.

"She goes to weights, she comes to practice and as soon practice was over she was off doing her own individual workout," Evans said. "When that was over she would come back to help me run a little kids camp and then she would get in an hour of shooting."

The work paid off in the 2019 5A state title game. With time ticking down, it was Van Gytenbeek with the ball in the final possession. She attacked the basket and made her shot, giving Creek its first girls basketball title in school history, probably to the delight that sixth-grade girl who dreamt of that very moment.

"She's definitely proud of herself," Van Gytenbeek said. "She's happy she could do it for Creek who hadn't won one before."

When he gets the opportunity to tell people this story in 10 years, there's one glaring component that Evans is looking forward to emphasizing. It was earlier this season that Van Gytenbeek set the state's all-time assist record. She won't be a girl known for legendary scoring numbers, but she she'll be known for making the biggest shot in program history.

"You can't think of a better ending or story for a kid," Evans said. "It's cool that she has the assist record and that she's known for making her teammates better, but it's also cool that she made that shot. She's worked so hard and is as deserving as any other kid."

She's put herself in elite company, not just from a Cherry Creek perspective but throughout the entire state. She hasn't even been handed her high school diploma, but there are certainly coaches, media members and even current players who have already started debating on her place as one of the all-time greats in Colorado.

Highlands Ranch Cherry Creek girls basketball

(PaulDiSalvoPhotography.com)