‘Baby Nash’ gets ready to fly the Cougar coop

Rocheleau signs national letter of intent to play for Sarah Lawrence

Wyatt Rocheleau ushered in many firsts for the Christopher High School athletics department.

The Cougars’ 2012-13 leading scorer is the first basketball player to start all four years, the first to make the All-Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division First Team, the first to attend Sarah Lawrence College and the first to continue his high school sports career at an NCAA Division III school in CHS’s four-year history.

But as far as family legacy is concerned, the 5-foot-11-inch point guard is carrying the torch as a third generation basketball player.

Wyatt’s father was a point guard for the University of Montana; his uncle Kevin played there and his grandfather also coached there.

“I am very proud. I hate to see him go so far away, but he’s going to be surrounded by geniuses and play basketball at the next level and you want to do what’s best for your kids,” said a beaming Kirk Rocheleau, who on Tuesday snapped pictures as his son – surrounded by dozens of teammates, friends and school staff – signed a national letter of intent to play for the private and independent liberal arts college in Yonkers, NY.

Being 3,000 miles away from his family, which includes mom Tami Rocheleau and a sister who is studying sports marketing at San Jose State University, is going to be “difficult,” said Wyatt, a Gilroyan of 10 years who previously played basketball at St. Mary School on First Street and also holds two track records at CHS.

Any creeping home sickness, however, is counterbalanced with an equal “excitement” to live, study and play basketball in a whole new scene on the East Coast, the senior adds.

The hard-earned opportunity couldn’t happen to a nicer person according to CHS staff and Wyatt’s teammates, who refer to their departing MVP as “Baby Nash” (a la Steve Nash, the eight-time NBA All-Star who attended Santa Clara University, plays for the Los Angeles Lakers and was named by ESPN in 2006 as the ninth greatest point guard of all time).

“He takes charge when nobody else has to,” noted senior forward A.J. Ellis, who moved from Los Angeles to Gilroy as a junior last year and was encouraged by Wyatt to come out and play.

“I just don’t have enough positive things to say about him,” echoed coach Kaden Bahner of the CHS boys varsity basketball team, which finished the season 11-15 overall and made its first ever post-season appearance, winning a CCS playoff game over in-town rival, the Gilroy Mustangs.

“He led us in so many different ways,” Bahner continued. “His energy on the court and his dedication and willingness to get better were the things that I really believe have garnered him this opportunity to play at the college level.”

That, and a commitment to excel in the classroom.

“He’s gonna do very well,” said CHS Principal John Perales. “Wyatt’s a student first.”

Next year, when he’s not practicing his heart out for head basketball coach Chris Ehmer at Sarah Lawrence, Wyatt plans on studying political science or possibly international business in hopes of becoming a lawyer.

Sarah Lawrence – which has 1,300 undergraduates, a 10:1 student-faculty ratio and diverse alumni pool that includes iconic fashion designer Vera Wang and “Lost” co-creator J.J. Abrams – is known for its rigorous academic standards and was ranked as having the “best faculty” according to the Princeton Review.

Perales, who describes the 18-year-old Wyatt being part of one big family at CHS, says he’ll miss joking around with the student-athlete.

“It says, ‘welcome to San Quentin State Penitentiary,’” joshed Perales, looking over Wyatt’s shoulder as he penned his name to the paperwork that seals his commitment to play for Sarah Lawrence in 2013-14.

As the heart of the Cougar basketball team this year with 264 points in 21 games, Wyatt caught the eye of more than one recruiter and was courted by a number of other schools including Westminster College in Utah and Grand View University in Iowa.

While Wyatt’s parents – like others about to become empty nesters with high school graduation just around the corner – would have liked to keep their son a “little closer to home,” the stellar academic profile of Sarah Lawrence is enough to commit to what Kirk Rocheleau good-humoredly predicts will be a “financial commuting extravaganza” to visit his son and hopefully catch him in action on the court.

Wyatt, whose positive outlook is one that comes from seeing what doors can open with the right amount of elbow grease and persistence, says he’s confident he’ll get some playing time as a college freshman.

“His dedication, really, I think, has created the opportunity that he is now getting,” remarked Bahner, who says Wyatt played in summer leagues and spent “long hours” on his own in the gym after regular practice.

Coaching Wyatt – one of seven athletes out of 14 teams to make the “prestigious” All-Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division First Team – “has been the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had as a coach,” Bahner added.

As “Baby Nash” gets ready to fly the nest, it sort of marks the end – and a new beginning for the basketball program Wyatt helped shape from “scratch” Bahner explained. CHS opened in 2008-09 and is still relatively new in the high school sports scene. 

“Wyatt is quite a character,” added English teacher Paul Winslow. “One who has gone above and beyond to give all students here at CHS the most enjoyable high school experience possible. He will definitely be missed, but I’m glad that his college of choice has seen the same potential in him that we do.”

With his days on the West Coast numbered, Wyatt – a Lakers fan – says he’ll miss the California sunshine and interacting with his friends everyday.

That, and his teammates.

“We are very close,” he smiled. “We are a family.”