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Empowered by coaches, driven by 'fearlessness': How King's freshman Cam Hiatt is taking the state by storm

"He’s our hardest worker, our best defender, our best teammate, most coachable kid," Knights coach Rick Skeen said. "That tells you a lot."
2022-01-17 at 7.14.00 PM-vince miller-king's-kings-tahoma-washington-basketball 5

Around two games into the season, Cam Hiatt received a text message from King’s boys basketball coach Rick Skeen.

The freshman had opened his high school career leading the defending Class 1A state champions with back-to-back 30-point scoring outings when the Knights were down their best player. Afterward, he was met with a challenge from his new coach. 

“He was like ‘hey, I think we have a really good shot at winning state with how we started, but I just want you to know that I’m going to be harder on you than I have any of the freshman before,’ ” Hiatt recalls. “He let me know. He told me ‘I need to rely on you as one of our pillars.’ ”

The 6-foot-4 point guard, perhaps the state’s most prolific freshman, has exceeded the buzz that surrounded him entering the season.

While Idaho State commit Jordan Hansen has looked like a state player of the year leader 18 games into the 2021-22 season after Washington commit Tyler Linhardt transferred to Western Reserve Academy in Ohio, Hiatt has become the team’s missing piece.

That’s earned him respect — and added responsibility. 

“We count on him. He’s a leader for us, he carries himself that way and I’m hard on him,” Skeen said of his 15-year-old floor general. “Sometimes my coaches say ‘remember, he’s a freshman.’ Well, he’s our second-best player and we need him to be as such.”

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King’s, No. 1 in SBLive’s 1A power rankings, beat Lynden Christian in overtime of the 2020 state 1A title, the last time state basketball tournaments were held in Washington.

Part of what has kept the Knights (16-2) — winners of three of the past six 1A championships — at or near the top of the state is the continuity of state tournament experience year over year. 

Since tournaments in 2021 were canceled due to COVID-19, the Knights entered this season with less state tournament experience than Skeen is used to. That, Skeen said, made Hiatt’s immediate impact — around 20 points, 5.5 boards and 3.3 assists per game — a welcome development.

But not a surprise.

Parents and coaches describe him as polite and somewhat reserved off the court. On the court, he’s worked to develop a “killer” mindset,” he said, studying and mirroring Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality.” 

Cam Hiatt found his fearlessness rooted in his self-confidence. That’s part of what has allowed him to embrace his role as a freshman. It’s what excites him for what promises to be a bright future in the sport.

A mental maturity beyond his years is something Skeen saw in him coming up in the Knights’ feeder program. The way he carried himself, attacked both the basket and defenders and how he responded to pressure helped Skeen believe he'd be ready for the moment before other incoming freshmen oozing talent and potential.

Hiatt started attending King’s in Shoreline in elementary school, but lived in Auburn for much of his childhood. Ryan Hansen, now Auburn’s boys coach, took notice a to Hiatt’s skills and nudged his dad, Zach Hiatt, about putting his son in an AAU program.

Skeen admits he would have started Hiatt as an eighth grader if WIAA rules allowed for it. He lobbied to play him at an unofficial 1A state tournament at Cedar Park Christian in June — not a WIAA-sponsored tournament — but a majority of opposing coaches voted down letting the 14-year old.

Perhaps they knew what was eventually coming.

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“He carries himself a lot like Corey (Kispert),” Skeen said, invoking his most accomplished alum who is now an NBA rookie with the Washington Wizards. “And I never want to make those comparisons from a skill-set capacity, but he’s our hardest worker, our best defender, our best teammate, most coachable kid.

"Guys love to play for him. They cheer for him. That tells you a lot.”

Right away, Cam Hiatt has been a quick study on the high school stage. Down Idaho State-bound senior Jordan Hansen, the Knights’ unquestioned leader, for the season-opener at 4A Woodinville, Hiatt had 32 points in his debut, but the Knights lost, 70-66.

The next night, he finished with 33 points, six boards and three steals in a 35-point win over King’s Way Christian and he’s flourished on bigger stages, against bigger-school opponents, like the Hardwood Invite at Auburn High School and the King Classic at the Showare Center.

He grew up idolizing players like Kispert, who he watched ascend to a college All-American and first round NBA Draft pick. His dad, Zach Hiatt, has also been his shooting coach and a mentor he's leaned on at every step of his basketball journey.

Zach Hiatt was known as a sharpshooter at Pacific Lutheran, where he played football and basketball in the late 1990s. Cam Hiatt has studied his dad’s shooting form, and credits him for pushed him to develop his killer instinct on the court. 

Cam Hiatt believes he's just scratching the surface — and has his mind set on helping King's make a run at the Yakima SunDome in March.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise, but I still have a long way to go, and a long way of maintaining this, which is some whole different monster,” he said. “It wasn’t expected, but it’s something I can’t take too much credit for because we still have a long way to go.”

Added Skeen: “He’s not afraid.”

(Lead photo by Vince Miller)