To Toni Kokenis, it doesn't get any better than returning home to play basketball.
Her mom Marie's cooking might be a close second.
"Pretty close," Toni said.
Kokenis will get a little home cookin' in more ways than one this week. The two-time Daily Herald All-Area captain from Hinsdale Central, now a freshman at Stanford, returns to the Chicago area Thursday when the No. 3-ranked Cardinal take on No. 22 DePaul in Chicago.
Stanford players are allotted two tickets, but Marie Kokenis was able to secure through DePaul coach Doug Bruno 300 tickets for friends and family to see Toni play.
The Stanford team also will get treated to a home-style Greek dinner at the Kokenis home.
Kokenis is one of two local players returning home this week. Former Warren standout Sarah Boothe is a redshirt sophomore at Stanford.
"I'm super excited to see all my friends and family who have supported me," Kokenis said. "To be able to come back here with Stanford and play in front of them, it's very special."
Boothe will have plenty of family and friends in attendance as well, with the entire Warren Blue Devils team expected to watch the game from the stands with head coach John Stanczykiewicz. The 6-foot-5 Boothe is the first player off the bench for the Cardinal, averaging 8 points and 5 rebounds after sitting out last season due to foot surgery.
Kokenis is coming off her first career start, a 77-40 win over Fresno State on Sunday. Boothe had her best game of the season on Sunday, contributing 10 points and 11 rebounds in the rout.
"It was a great experience, hearing your named called out," Kokenis said. "Really cool. It was an honor."
Kokenis is one of two freshman starters for Stanford, the first time since the 2005-06 season the Cardinal has started two first-players.
"Her ability to beat people off the dribble is something we need," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer told reporters afterward.
Kokenis is averaging 2.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in 18 minutes per game for 6-0 Stanford. Sliding Kokenis in at point guard allows the Cardinal to move senior Jeanette Pohlen to her natural shooting guard position.
"Jeanette's taught me a lot," Kokenis said. "Our offense, entering the ball, watching her and how she handles pressure and creates for her teammates."
Kokenis gives big kudos to the Cardinal coaches in helping define where she fits in the team's puzzle.
"They're helping me understand how to lead the team and be more vocal. That's definitely one of the biggest things I needed to work on," Kokenis said, "and I'm making progress. Sometimes I try to do too much. Speed is one of my assets, but I start going too fast. I need to slow down and back up a little bit, let the game come to me."
Stanford and Kokenis have a demanding schedule ahead.
After playing DePaul the Cardinal is at sixth-ranked Tennessee on Dec. 19. Stanford hosts No. 5 Xavier on Dec. 28, before top-ranked Connecticut comes calling Dec. 30.
Connecticut, which has former Montini star Michala Johnson on its roster, currently boasts a women's basketball record 87-game winning streak, two shy of breaking the UCLA men's 88-game streak from 1971-74.
Stanford was the last team to beat the Huskies, in the 2008 national semifinals.
No surprise, the UConn game already has created a buzz on campus.
"Everybody is excited to play them again," said Kokenis, referring to Stanford's loss to Connecticut in last year's championship game. "We want to show them that we can play with them. Everybody is looking forward to that game it's going to be packed."
Kokenis has come a long way in one short year.
This week, she gets to return to where it all started.
"This year, it's been as good as I could have ever asked," Kokenis said.