Few holiday boys basketball tournaments in the state of Illinois rival the prestige and tradition found at Proviso West.
Stevenson made its first-ever appearance in the 32-team tournament last month and seemed to handle the hype just fine.
The Patriots went 3-2 at Proviso and came one win shy of playing in the championship game. They finished out their five-game slate with a loss to Oswego in the third-place game.
Stevenson's other loss came to Morgan Park in the semifinals, but before that there were wins over Hinsdale Central, St. Charles East and Maine South.
"We feel good that we were able to show ourselves so well in a tournament of that caliber," said Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose, whose teams had played in the Wheeling Hardwood Classics over the holidays for years before this year's switch to Proviso West. "We made good decisions, we played good basketball. Now we have to build on that with more positive steps from here on out."
One big positive for the Patriots at Proviso West was sophomore guard Connor Cashaw. He posted double-doubles against both Maine South and St. Charles East.
"Connor did a great job on the boards. He was all over the place rebounding both offensively and defensively," Ambrose said. "He played really well over the whole tournament. He was just really solid in every way."
Ditto for sophomore guard Jalen Brunson, who earned second-team all-tournament honors. Meanwhile, senior guard Andy Stempel had a double-double against Oswego and junior forward Matt Morrissey was consistent on both the offensive and defensive ends.
"We had a lot of guys play really well at Proviso West," said Ambrose, whose team returns to conference play with a 10-4 record.
Coming full circle:
Although his team was making its first appearance at the Proviso West boys holiday tournament last month, Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose already knew his way around the party.
After graduating from college, Ambrose's first full-time teaching job was at Proviso West. He taught history and social studies there and was an underlevel basketball coach. Part of his responsibilities was to help run the school's long-running holiday tournament.
Ambrose was at Proviso West from 1993 to 1996.
"I was able to do a little bit of everything while I was there," Ambrose said. "I coached the freshmen and the sophomores and I also helped with the varsity. The head coach there at the time was Mark Schneider, who was there for many, many years. I learned a lot from him and I owe him a ton. I consider him a mentor. He helped me so much, and being there was just a great experience for me."
Ambrose knew his team would be in for a great experience at the Proviso Tournament. Up through last season, the Patriots had been spending the holidays at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, dating back to the late 1980s.
Stevenson won the Wheeling Hardwood title in 1990, 1998 and 2000.
"We really liked Wheeling," Ambrose said. "We just felt that we wanted to turn the page and do a little something different. It was kind of a combination of the fact that I taught at Proviso West and know the people down there who run the tournament, and it's also such a great tournament. We wanted the chance to play some different teams, some teams that are also really tough."