Roughly 1,200 miles from Chicago, Jason Santo was able to dig into his Illinois roots to find the next boys basketball coach for Basalt High School. The first-year BHS athletic director, who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley this summer from Geneva, Illinois, recently hired Clint Hunter to take over the Longhorn program.
Hunter is a native of Naperville, Illinois, which like Geneva is a Chicago suburb. The towns are only separated by about 20 miles.
“It was a total coincidence. I think it’s great. Clint is a young guy who has got a ton of energy and love for basketball,” Santo said. “It just became easy for me to say this guy is a natural fit for what I want to do with Basalt and he has the same visions I do. I think it’s that Illinois mentality of this is how we want to do things.”
Hunter, 30, replaces C.P. Martinez, who stepped down earlier this summer after leading the Basalt boys basketball program for two seasons. The hire was the first significant coaching hire for Santo as Basalt’s athletic director.
A graduate of Naperville North High School and nearby North Central College, Hunter immediately returned to his high school alma mater where he has coached the past 12 years. A school of nearly 3,000 students, he’s primarily been the boys sophomore coach for one of the better programs in Illinois. Under head coach Jeff Powers, the varsity team went a combined 74-14 from the 2015-16 season through the 2017-18 season.
“We played against his team two seasons ago in a regional championship. Their program was stacked and really good that year,” Santo said, pointing out Naperville North’s postseason win over Geneva in 2018. “The community is going to love him. I think the kids already are loving him, just being around him. My hope is that when you come see Basalt basketball you see the energy that Clint is really bringing to the program.”
Hunter moved to the Roaring Fork Valley over the summer as well. He followed his wife, who has roots in Colorado Springs, to the area after she took a job at Valley View Hospital. Hunter, who is a special education teacher at BHS, actually held open gym workouts with the Basalt players during the summer before being hired as head coach.
“We came and visited and loved it and decided it was the right fit for us. We took a leap of faith,” Hunter said of moving to Basalt. “It was nice being able to pop in and hold open gyms over the summer. Every day I was able to be with them is going to help out that much more come season time. It’s a lot easier to coach when you have a relationship to coach off of.”
Hunter takes over a program coming off back-to-back losing seasons, including a 3-17 campaign in 2018-19. However, Basalt is only three years removed from its historic 2016-17 season under coach Danny Martinez, when the Longhorns went 21-4 while being led by then-senior Michael Glen, who has become a standout player for the NCAA Division II Colorado School of Mines in Golden.
Hunter said he liked what he saw in terms of athleticism when working with the returning players over the summer.
“In order to capitalize on that, we are going to work to play very quick and with a lot of transition, especially on the offensive end,” Hunter said. “On the defensive end, we will rely on defensive transition, as well, going the other way. But I think we are going back to the basics to figure out what they know.”
Official practices get underway Nov. 18, with the first games of the 2019-20 season slated for Dec. 2 across Colorado. Hunter said Eric Vozick will return as an assistant coach this winter, and BHS has also hired Aspen High School graduate Dom Alcorta as an assistant.
“He’s going to have them do the fundamentals. He’s going to help build the program and he really cares about the kids,” Santo said of Hunter. “When we look for coaches, what we are looking for … are people who are going to be great educators of young men and young women and Clint fits that to a T.”