When Kyli Crooms is taking over a program, that is the defining factor of the environment he is trying to build.
“I try to go above and beyond for any and all of my players,” Crooms said. “Not just on the court, but off the court. If my players know that I’ll give 110 percent for them, then that’s the kind of culture you set the table for and then it’s just automatic. Your players will do it back for you, your families will go above and beyond.”
Crooms is taking this mindset to San Tan Charter School, where he was promoted to head coach after serving as an assistant coach on Varsity last season. Heading into his fourth season at the school — he spent two seasons coaching middle school basketball — Crooms is leading a program fresh off a 15-win season that included a run to the 2A Division semifinals.
Replacing Derek Freeman, who spent five years leading the Roadrunners, Crooms is taking over a roster he is familiar with. Six of San Tan’s players work with him at Amateur Athletic Union program UH Elite, where he is club director.
“He teaches leadership things we need to know at the next level,” junior guard AJ Turner said. “And we’ve been winning. We’ve been doing better.”
Coaching is a natural profession for Crooms, since he has been involved in basketball for nearly his entire life. Growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, California, he started playing in fourth grade and made his way to the RC Bulls Elite, an AAU program in Los Angeles with alumni such as Milwaukee Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday.
After three years at Alta Loma High School, he suited up for Vanguard University, Cerritos Community College and Arizona Christian University. Then, as the lead trainer at Life Time Fitness in Southern California out of college, his journey from the hardwood to the sideline commenced.
Moving to Arizona, he co-started a club program — while working at Life Time’s Gilbert location — that connected him with the area’s high school coaches. He had success leading a U-17 team, which inspired him to create UH Elite.
“(Basketball) taught me how to grow up and be a man, take accountability for the stuff I wanted to do,” Crooms said. “That’s really what led me to say ‘Okay well, I see a lot of kids with talent.’ As I was training, I got to see a lot of people that I didn’t feel were doing things the right way.”
“I thought, ‘I have some time to do it, so let me step in and put a few teams and we can see if we can get some players up to the next level.’”
Following his first season, Crooms sent “four or five” players to programs including California State University, Long Beach and Utah Valley University. Now, UH Elite has four coaches and more than eight teams.
Building a program is what he now hopes to achieve at San Tan.
Crooms led the Roadrunners in their four games at the Section 7 Basketball Tournament in Glendale. Going 3-1 over the weekend, San Tan was led by Turner and junior guard Erick Booker — both play for Crooms on UH Elite.
The guards are two of the Roadrunners’ oldest players for a team that Crooms looks forward to developing.
“He’s a good coach,” Booker said. “He helps me get through my mindset and helps me focus (and) motivate myself to get better.”
According to Crooms, San Tan — whose roster at Section 7 was split evenly with six underclassmen and six upperclassmen — is a young team that is ready to learn and showcase their skills to programs across the East Valley.
He knows hard work must be done to reach this point, which his players are showing. Crooms said Booker is finding his identity on the court and carries a “‘I’ll run through a wall for you’” mentality, while Turner is stepping in as a team leader and carrying over his effort from practice last year when he pushed the pace and challenged senior guards.
For each player that dons the green and yellow jersey, Crooms hopes to improve their game and help San Tan succeed on the court, which may encourage new players to come to the school.
“If you see the kids getting better, then why wouldn’t you want to come be a part of that?” Crooms said. “Wins will come with that. As we develop the program, it’s ‘Okay, are we taking strides each week to get better at something that we weren’t? Are we breaking bad habits?’”
When the 2021 season tips off, San Tan will be contenders for the 2A title. To raise the trophy, the Roadrunners will have to be bought in. Crooms know that, and has a strategy for it.
It is one that may lead to a championship for his newest basketball family.
“The sky’s the limit,” Crooms said.