NEW HAVEN — Steve Jefferson doesn’t miss being the head coach of a varsity basketball program, but he isn’t closing the door on it if another opportunity arises.
But if Jefferson doesn’t return, he does leave a legacy of having been the only boys basketball coach the former Hyde/Creed school ever had, leading the program to a pair of state championships. Jefferson, 56, was one of four people honored at the fifth annual Robert Saulsbury Invitational at Wilbur Cross High Friday.
“I’m in a good place right now in regards to walking away (from coaching),” Jefferson said. “I feel great and honored that our former student-athletes allowed me to coach them and mentor them both on and off the court and appreciate our former parents entrusting me with their young student-athletes.”
Also honored were former Wilbur Cross and Fairfield University standout Troy Bradford, former Hillhouse and West Virginia star Bria Holmes, who now stars for the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA, and longtime New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.
Jefferson helped lead Hyde to three Shoreline Conference championships and to a pair of Class S state championships in 2003 and 2010, respectively. In 2010, Hyde went 27-0 and finished third in the final Register top 10 poll.
“I didn’t really learn to appreciate those guys until about a couple of years later,” Jefferson said. “The way they all competed at that level every night was just incredible.”
Hyde also made three other trips to the Class S final in 1999, 2000 and 2009. Those first two trips to the finals were Jefferson’s favorite teams. The 1999 club was just in its second season as a varsity program after being just a JV team for a couple of seasons.
“It’s like your first-born,” said Jefferson, the dean of students at the LW Beecher School in New Haven. “Even thought they didn’t pull it off, just getting there did wonders for our basketball program. It put our program on the map.”
The school changed names from the Hyde Leadership School to Cortland VR Creed in 2016. The school closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
Jefferson led Creed to the Class S quarterfinals in 2017. The program’s final game was an overtime loss to Seymour in the opening round of the 2018 Division IV tournament.
Jefferson also previously ran the Hotshot Basketball program in the city. This past fall, Jefferson did coach the West Haven program in the fall league at the Boys & Girls Club of New Haven.
Bradford shared a hug with Saulsbury, his former coaching during the Governors’ glory days. Cross went to consecutive Class LL state finals in 1984 and 1985, winning the crown in his senior year in 1985.
“Coach looks the same as he did when he coached me,” Bradford said. “Everybody has a dream school (for college). Wilbur Cross was my dream high school.”
Bradford went on to play at Fairfield University. His 22.7 scoring average as a junior during the 1987-88 season still stands today as a single-season best for the Stags.
Now a state juvenile probation officer in New Britain, Bradford was inducted into the 2019 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Honor Roll Class at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts on Sept. 14.
Holmes had her Hillhouse jersey retired last May and was inducted into the New Haven Tap-Off Club Hall of Fame in November. She is Hillhouse’s all-time leading scorer with 2,160 points and is third in West Virginia history with 2,001 points.
Holmes helped lead the Sun to the WNBA finals, losing to the Washington Mystics.