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Article updated: 3/10/2011 6:31 PM
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St. Charles East's Stephens a pure shooter
 

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St. Charles East's Stephens a pure shooter
  • Laura Stoecker/lstoecker@dailyherald.com  St. Charles North's attempts a block on a shot by St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens in the first half on Friday, February 18.

    Laura Stoecker/lstoecker@dailyherald.com St. Charles North's attempts a block on a shot by St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens in the first half on Friday, February 18.

  •  Kendall Stephens averaged 17 points in his sophomore year at St. Charles East.

    Purchase Photo | Kendall Stephens averaged 17 points in his sophomore year at St. Charles East. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  •  A 6-foot-9 wingspan is one of the things that college coaches like the most about St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens.

    Purchase Photo | A 6-foot-9 wingspan is one of the things that college coaches like the most about St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 

"I was, first of all, a late bloomer," Everette Stephens said.

His son, St. Charles East sophomore Kendall Stephens, has proved to be anything but.

Story Continues Below

Kendall's mother, Kay, wasn't crazy about the Nerf Hoop installed in the living room. From minor irritation, however, major results were produced.

Right off, the honorary captain of the Daily Herald 2010-11 Tri-Cities All-Area Boys Basketball Team showed special abilities with a basketball, quickly moving from a squishy orange one to a more standard model.

"He just had a knack for shooting the ball. And then, also, dribbling," Everette Stephens said.

"At 3 years old he could literally dribble a basketball with rhythm. It was just very shocking to me. Shooting and dribbling was something for him that I noticed really early."

What he's accomplished lately is no less impressive, and known to everyone in these parts who follows boys prep basketball.

Starting with Northwestern coach Bill Carmody offering him a scholarship the day after St. Charles East's 2010-11 opener, when Kendall scored 27 points against then-No. 19 Proviso East at the Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament, other programs followed suit.

Wisconsin, DePaul, Illinois and Purdue all offered, with Stephens verbally committing to the latter on Feb. 14 even while Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford, Duke and Notre Dame pestered Saints coach Brian Clodi and Stephens' Amateur Athletic Union coach, the Illinois Wolves' Mike Mullins.

"Probably every other night I'd be talking to different coaches," said Stephens who, being just a sophomore, could call college coaches and recruiters who couldn't initiate contact directly.

"They just saw a lot of upside that I had," said Stephens, a slender 6-foot-4 athlete with a 6-foot-9 wingspan who just turned 16 in November.

"Having the pedigree of my dad playing at Purdue and then making it to the NBA (playing with Indiana and Milwaukee) they knew that in my ear I had good advance for basketball because obviously he'd been there," Kendall said. "They think that I'm still going to be able to grow. I'm playing on a great AAU team that gives me a lot of publicity, and because of my jumper, my shot, that's really what they saw that stood out."

All this attention happened earlier than it did for his father.

"Maybe I'm old-school, but they're still kids," said Everette Stephens, who just concluded his first season as one of Clodi's assistants at St. Charles East. Rather than the currently all-important AAU system, Everette Stephens earned attention by earning invitation to national camps and auditioning in front of college coaches.

"If they were really interested, they would start coming to the playgrounds or to open gym to watch you, but you had to get the ball rolling by getting invited to these camps," said Everette Stephens, who met his wife at Purdue.

He said he "was still in awe" when Purdue offered him a scholarship his senior year at Evanston.

"With Kendall developing, watching him play from such a young age and watching him improve, of course it's exciting for me," Everette said. "It's exciting for me as a parent and as a coach. But I just know how hard it is to play at the highest level and then the demand that's placed on him.

"So he's got a lot of work to do. I let him know that all the time. You've sealed the deal as far as with having coaches think highly of you and seeing some type of potential down the road. But this is where it begins at, because now you've got to work hard."

Kendall has taken that to heart. And the good news is that this work is fun. The first thing Saints coach Clodi said when asked how Stephens fits as honorary captain was: "the passion of the game, love of the game."

Clodi said that away from practice Stephens takes an additional 2,000 shots over the course of a weekend, and an extra 1,000 during the week. He's polished that jumper pretty well, described by Stephens himself as "smooth and accurate."

"He's just special, he's got that special touch," Clodi said. "He gets himself squared (to the basket) like all great shooters do. Fundamentally he's pretty sound on his releases. The other thing is his confidence level. Every time it leaves his hand he's got confidence it's going to go in.

"With all his extra practice, when a shooter sees it go in over and over and over in practice, he expects it to go in during the game."

And so it did.

Already a two-year starter, this season Stephens made 72 of 179 attempts beyond the 3-point arc, 40 percent. Clodi translates that to the upper 50 percentile in 2-point land, and in fact Stephens' 3-point percentage nearly equaled his 49 percent within the arc (84 of 170).

He also sank 74 percent of his 128 free throws, exactly four times the number he took his freshman year. Driving to the hoop, not settling for the perimeter jumper, is an area he's working to improve.

The dunks he slammed in transition against Elgin and Geneva were also a developmental plus for a player who figures to grow in size and strength over the next two seasons.

Against Willowbrook, Stephens scored 31 points through three quarters before Clodi rested the starters in a 30-point win. Four days later Stephens scored 22 of his 28 points in a half against Streamwood. He had an 18-point half in an upset of top-seeded Maine South at York's holiday tournament, where Stephens was one of two non-seniors to make the all-tourney team.

In St. Charles East's last two regular season games, victories over Glenbard West and Larkin, Stephens combined to go 19 of 26 from the floor.

"That shows you what kind of sharpshooter he is," Clodi said. "A lot of guys with nobody guarding them can't make 9 of 13, 10 of 13, and he's the focal point of every defense."

Stephens finished his sophomore season playing all 28 games and averaging 17.1 points and 5 rebounds. While helping the Saints improve from a 4-9 start to an even .500 at 14-14 he led his team in scoring, rebounds, blocks, steals, free throws made and attempted, 3-pointers and 2-pointers.

Since it all came through the offense without showboating, and Stephens retained his humility when the likes of Purdue coach Matt Painter or Illinois coach Bruce Weber happened by, Clodi said his teammates enjoyed the smooth-faced sophomore the coach called "the quiet assassin."

"To put it point-blank," Clodi said, "they love him."

"Kendall, he was a great teammate," said senior guard Spencer Motley, the Saints' second-leading scorer.

"He knows when to be serious, he knows when to keep a smile on everyone's face. He's, like, a character. If we're having a rough practice he'll make a joke, say something funny and everyone will laugh, Coach will laugh. But also he knows when to get people directed."

Motley said one person owning the stat sheet -- an underclassmen and the son of an assistant coach, no less -- was no issue.

"Honestly, it was more joyful than anything to see a sophomore like him succeed," Motley said. "As a team, we just wanted to win, it didn't matter who scored, who got all the rebounds or anything. We just wanted to win."

In a heady season of recruiting calls and official visits, sometimes a little fatigued and a lot busy, Kendall Stephens shared that goal.

A little unlike his father, perhaps, as he's apparently on the fast track to success.

"Having all my family members and friends and coaches helping me stay humble and stay focused on what I need to do as far as making sure my team is winning, that's what we're always striving for. And making sure I'm improving as an individual," he said.

"Both those things come into play. It's very easy to get distracted with all the recruiting and stuff, but I had great people around me."

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