by Zach DiSchiano
It was a rocky journey for Jake Krafka in joining that 1 percent of high school athletes who play at the Division I level, and I’m not just saying that because he chose to go to the University of Denver.
Long before he made the decision to play under the frosty shade of the Rocky Mountains, Krafka was tirelessly working to improve his game and outperform his dad, a former basketball player for Texas A&M-Commerce, who challenged him to earn a better scholarship than he did.
After a visit to Denver’s campus last weekend, Krafka went home to ponder his options and decided that playing for Coach Joe Scott and the Pioneers was the right choice for him.
The feeling of officially accepting a scholarship to play Division I basketball, he said, was overwhelming and gratifying.
“It was kind of weird,” the 6’6 small forward from Hays said. “As a kid, you always dream about going and playing. When you get the offer, it feels great. But just like, committing, and saying you’re going to go play there, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is the real deal now.’ When I called Coach Scott, he was very excited and stuff. When I got off the phone, I was just like dang, like I couldn’t feel my whole body, it was weird. I was just so excited.”
Krafka picked Denver because of the essentials – great campus, excellent facilities, chemistry with prospective teammates and style of play. The Pioneers run a positionless game of basketball, where just about anyone can bring the ball up the court, and anyone can play down low. Krafka fits into that versatile role nicely because his dad ensured he was working on all aspects of
his game early on.
“As a kid, I thought I was a big man, I thought I was cool ’cause I was tall,” Krafka said. “I was like, ‘I’m a big man, I don’t need to learn how to dribble.’ He’s the one that made me do dribbling stuff and all that and made me do all this shooting stuff to make me the better player that I am today.”
Krafka’s relationship with his father was of paramount importance in shaping him into the player and man he is today. When Krafka was in 5th grade, his parents divorced and he was living with his mother in Dallas while his father moved back to Austin. It was during that time that Krafka realized his basketball career could potentially suffer if he did not make a change.
“Even when I was young, my dad still pushed me and stuff to make me become who I am today,” he said. “He was a very big role model. When I didn’t want to do things, he’d always be like, ‘Come on, the future is brighter, just trust me.’ and stuff like that. When I was in Dallas, I didn’t really feel like that with my mom ’cause she was like – you know how mothers are – ‘Oh, you’re so good, honey,’ so I moved to Austin with my dad and he just helped me throughout the whole basketball process.”
That decision proved to be a wise one because this time next fall, Krafka will be fulfilling his lifelong dream to play basketball at the next level. He will receive a stellar education from a prestigious university, majoring in business and minoring in sports management. He said he might even have a link on interning for the Denver Broncos while he’s there.
It is no wonder why Krafka’s dad said he does not expect his son to return to Texas.
“He was like, ‘Going to Colorado, you’re probably not going to come back, so I’ll be visiting you a lot,” Krafka said. “He said if he went to Colorado, he probably wouldn’t come back ’cause of how nice it is. It’s a direct flight, so it’s not that bad.”
The two got a laugh during Krafka’s visit to Denver when the coaches were commenting on the September weather.
“Up there, all the coaches were like, ‘Dang, it’s a hot day,'” Krafka said. “And me and my dad were just like wow, how is this hot to y’all? You know how hot and humid it is here. It was so nice there. And everything is so green, it’s crazy, it’s so beautiful.”
The weather is certainly an added bonus, but when it came down to it, Krafka said, his decision to commit to Denver came down to the level of effort the coaches were putting in to recruit him.
“People were talking to me but not to the extent that Denver would,” he said. “A lot of people talked to me, a lot of people called. But it wasn’t like Denver. Denver was always on top of stuff. If they said they were going to call then, they were going to call then. They were never busy enough to not make time for me.”
Krafka said he wants to bulk up a bit more before he arrives on campus and fine-tune his game some, but the biggest challenge is finally behind him. The time he and his dad spent grinding to be in this position, the work he did not want to do but manned up and did anyway, it all paid off.
With the help and motivation from his father, Krafka accomplished one of the rarest things in high school athletics, and even rarer was his dad’s admitting of who ended up as the better player.
“I always told my dad I’d be better than him at basketball,” he said. “As a kid, he always tried to burst my bubble when I got a big head. He said, ‘The only way to beat me is to get a higher scholarship than me.’ So that’s what I did, and it was kind of cool after, just him saying, ‘Hey, you finally beat me.’