Ty Santos quick study to become star at Kolbe Cathedral

Watch Kolbe Cathedral boys basketball coach John Pfohl on the sidelines and you quickly realize he will do whatever he can to get the most out of his players in any given game.

Naturally, as any good coach would, Pfohl expects the same perfection in practice — and how he delivers the message isn’t always pleasant.

“I’m expecting perfection every day in practice. I expect it to be done right,” Pfohl said. “We have a saying: ‘If you don’t do it perfect, you’re doing pushups.’ We have kids doing pushups on every play (in practice).”

So every Cougar who has played for Pfohl, during his first run as Kolbe coach and in year five of his second tenure, has done their share of pushups. That includes star senior guard Ty Santos from the moment he came to play for the program as a freshman.

“I did a lot of pushups my freshman year,” Santos recalled. “I was glad to be on the varsity team. By my sophomore year, I wanted to win.”

Santos has learned plenty and done plenty since his first year with the program. He is now a senior co-captain with a SWC championship under his belt and another berth in the league tournament final.

And he has understood the points Pfohl has tried to get across to him over the years rather than the manner in which it was delivered.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t listen to how I say it, listen to what I’m saying,’” Pfohl said. “Right from the beginning, the entire coaching staff felt Ty would be the next great player. He was going to be the next guy. We all felt that he had the work ethic to do it. I can come at Ty harder than anybody else. He takes it great.”

Said Santos: “You have to concentrate more, think about what he is telling you to do and implement what he is saying. When he gets a little loud and gets in your face a little bit, it’s all mental. He is preparing you for the next level.”

Santos, who is averaging 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals per game this season, comes from good genes. His dad, also Ty, played at Harding and was a part of the Presidents’ last state championship team in 2001.

His cousin is Marcus Cox, the former standout at Kolbe over two decades ago. The 1998-99 State Player of the Year for the New Haven Register, Cox went on to play at both UConn and UMass.

Santos said Cox has worked him out since he was in the eighth grade. To this day, Santos the son reviews every game film with Santos the dad, normally a couple of hours each time on what can be improved.

“My dad taught me everything I know,” Santos said. “Marcus has taught me a lot about footwork as far as come off screens and my pull-up jump shot. My dad focuses more on ball handling, angles come off screen and how to attack a screen.”

Santos helped the Cougars win the SWC championship in 2020 over Immaculate. They were ranked all season long last year and were undefeated in reaching the SWC final, but lost to Notre Dame-Fairfield.

The Cougars are the only undefeated team in the SWC this season and currently ranked sixth in the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll.

Pfohl said Santos played mainly point guard last year in the backcourt with Daniel Wellington. This year, he has mainly been used as a shooting guard.

But Santos has the ability to see the floor and make the extra pass. He is a true floor general and someone opposing defenses are always on the lookout for.

“We try not to build around one player, but Ty is special,” Pfohl said. “Ty does so many things for us. He is a really good on ball defender, he breaks pressure very well, he runs our 2-man game very well. He’s been in the end-of-game situations at crunch time since he’s been a freshman. He has that experience, which is hard to teach.”

Much like he can dominate on a basketball court, Santos uses that same vision to see the board and read his opponent while playing chess. He said he started playing when he was 2- or 3-years old, taught by his dad, and played and won tournaments as a kid. Santos gave it up for a period but picked it back up during the COVID-19 pandemic and played in some tournaments over the summer.

Santos said he even wrote his college essay on chess. He has a rating through his tournament play.

As far as what he needs to work on, Santos said he still struggles with when to push the ball up the floor and when to walk it up, when to attack a seam, when to be more patient. That’s part of the reason why he and his dad look over each game film extensively.

There has been some Division I interest in the 6-foot-1, 150-pound senior co-captain. But likely not enough to sway his decision: he will likely take a post-graduate year. Both he and Pfohl think he can add some weight onto his frame. But don’t think Santos can be pushed around.

“I work out every day. A lot of people are surprised by my wiry strength. People don’t realize how strong I am until you feel that forearm and you realize how strong I actually am.”

Said Pfohl: “I think he is a scholarship player without a doubt. At the right Division I school, he can excel at. You have to be strong at the Division I level.”

Santos plans to major in sports management, wherever he ends up. For now, he wants to get a chance to play in the CIAC state tournament for the first time. He didn’t get into any games as a freshman and the last two seasons were canceled due to the pandemic.

Before that, he wants to keep the undefeated season alive. And if it comes down to it, maybe see Notre Dame-Fairfield again in a SWC tournament rematch. Kolbe edged Notre Dame once already this season, with the second regular season game coming in Fairfield on Jan. 28.

Santos feels the current underclassmen have things a little bit easier than what he endured as an underclassmen. So has Pfohl softened up? Maybe, maybe not. But Santos is still doing pushups.

“This year, most of my pushups is someone else having to do pushups. We are a team so if you are doing them, I am going do them, too,” Santos said. “I have a strong bond with each and every one of them.”

joseph.morelli@hearstmediact.com; @nhrJoeMorelli