Making the huge step from high school hoops to college basketball at a Division 1 school can be a daunting task for any freshman.
Kendall Stephens is not your average freshman.
It hasn’t taken Stephens long to be acclimated as a true freshman at Purdue University.
The St. Charles East High School product has made an immediate impact for head coach Matt Painter’s Boilermakers this season.
In his collegiate debut, the 6-foot-6 guard connected on a pair of 3-pointers and scored 6 points with 4 rebounds during Purdue’s 77-76 victory over Northern Kentucky on Nov. 8 in West Lafayette.
Five days later, Stephens poured in three more 3-pointers during the Boilermakers’ 109-73 rout of nonconference foe Central Connecticut State. It marked Purdue’s highest point total in a game since 1997.
Scoring points has never been much of a problem for Stephens.
As a 4-year varsity starter at St. Charles East, Stephens averaged 17.7 points per game during his junior campaign and owned a 19.2-point average during an injury-shortened senior season.
Stephens scored 83 points in 3 games while leading the Saints to their own Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament title last season — their first season-opening tourney title since 1994.
Unfortunately, Stephens didn’t get an opportunity to finish his final prep season on the court as he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder almost 13 months ago (Jan. 22, 2013).
Now that he has fully healed, Stephens is putting up solid numbers for the Boilermakers (15-10, 5-7).
Through 25 games, Stephens is averaging 7.5 points and 1.6 rebounds per contest. He has made 10 starts and is averaging 19 minutes of playing time per game.
“I’m just trying to be productive and play hard,” said Stephens. “I’m very pleased with how much I’m playing.”
Stephens contributed 6 points and a career-high 3 blocked shots during Purdue’s 82-64 rout of rival Indiana last Saturday at Mackey Arena.
Midway through the second half, he connected on his team-high 51st 3-pointer of the season — where he currently ranks third on the school’s freshman single-season list.
He finds himself just two 3-pointers behind Chris Lutz (2006) for second on the list and has a chance at eclipsing Purdue’s freshman record of 66 3-pointers set by E’Twaun Moore (2008).
“I’ve still got a long way to go in that area but that is my role,” Stephens said of his long-range shooting. “The shot isn’t always available. You have to see what the defense gives you.”
Earlier this month, Stephens drained four 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 14 points during Purdue’s wild 77-74 triple-overtime victory over Minnesota — the first triple-overtime game in Mackey Arena’s 47-year history.
He followed that with a team-high 12 points in 20 minutes during the Boilermakers’ 67-49 loss at Ohio State.
Stephens has quickly learned the rigors of playing Big Ten basketball.
“It is a grind,” said Stephens. “My body is a little sore but you get treatment and play through it. Our practices are a lot longer (than in high school) so there’s a lot less time off. You have to stay on top of everything and manage your time.”
The Business major appears to have a handle in that area as well, judging from his appearance on the school’s Honor Roll last semester.
Despite all of the early success, Stephens has had to make a few adjustments as well.
“The biggest adjustment has been how mental it is,” said Stephens. “There is so much focus and attention to detail made in the scouting reports. Since every team has athletic players, you have to outthink your opponent.”
The Stephens name is no stranger to Purdue lore.
Kendall’s dad, Everette, played on back-to-back Big Ten championship teams in 1987 and 1988 at Purdue, where he ranks 42nd on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,044 points. He currently serves as a varsity assistant basketball coach at St. Charles East.
“I talk to my dad every three or four days,” said Kendall, who has family that includes aunts, uncles and his grandmother on his mom’s side near West Lafayette. “He comes to most of our home games when St. Charles East is off.”
Other than a few home-cooked meals with relatives, Kendall hasn’t received any preferential treatment as a freshman.
“My dad is letting me start to figure things out,” said Kendall, who has spent just 4 days back in St. Charles (over Christmas break) since last summer.
Stephens and his teammates have made Mackey Arena their home away from home.
Last weekend, the Boilermakers improved their home record to 12-2 with the win over Indiana before a season-best crowd of 14,846.
“It’s nice playing at Mackey,” said Stephens. “It gets loud.”
Stephens has also adjusted to life on the road.
“I enjoyed playing at Minnesota,” he said. “The only problem was that we had to spend an extra day at our hotel because of a snowstorm.”
Playing alongside the likes of Terone Johnson, Ronnie Johnson and A.J. Hammons, Stephens surprised some of his teammates before the season started with his long-range shooting ability.
Since then, he has even surprised himself.
Against Oklahoma State, Stephens connected on an NBA-range 3-pointer as Purdue rallied from a 21-point deficit to pull to within 84-80 with 3:16 remaining at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
“When I watched the game films, I was like, ‘wow, I was pretty far out there,’” said Stephens. “It was a good thing that it went in or I would have been sitting on the bench.”
Sitting on the bench is something that Stephens might not have to worry about over the next 3 years.
“I’ve got a lot of things to improve on,” said Stephens. “I have to continue to work on my upper body strength and jumping ability. Offensively, I need to get stronger with the ball. I want to be able to put the ball on the floor and create my own shot.”
Purdue, which hosts Big Ten front-runner Michigan State Thursday night, needs to win 4 of its last 6 games for a 9-9 conference finish and possible NCAA Tournament bid.
Whatever the case, it has already been a successful season for Stephens.
“It has been very fun,” he said.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org