Class 4A state semifinal scouting
Whitney Young Dolphins (26-5) vs. Stevenson Patriots (31-1)
When: 6:30 p.m., tonight
Where: Carver Arena, Peoria Civic Center
TV: The U Too
Whitney Young's road to state: At the Whitney Young regional, Whitney Young defeated Reavis, 76-44 and DeLaSalle, 73-60. At the Marist sectional, Whitney Young defeated Simeon, 72-64 and St. Rita, 75-66. At the Chicago State supersectional on Tuesday, Whitney Young defeated Loyola Academy, 58-32.
Stevenson's road to state: At the McHenry regional, Stevenson defeated McHenry, 65-38 and Warren, 79-59. At the Lake Zurich sectional, Stevenson defeated St. Viator, 84-73 and Fremd, 63-48. At the NIU supersectional on Tuesday, Stevenson defeated Rockford Auburn, 63-49.
Whitney Young's tournament history: The Dolphins have won two state championships, in 1998 and 2009. They beat Galesburg and Waukegan, respectively, in the state title games. In 2010, Whitney Young finished as the state runner-up, losing to Simeon in the state title game. Last year, the Dolphins lost in the sectional final to eventual state champion Simeon, 69-51.
Stevenson's tournament history: Stevenson is making its third trip downstate in the last eight years. The Patriots placed fourth in 2006-07 and finished as the state runner-up last season to Simeon, losing in the state title game, 58-40.
Coaches: Tyrone Slaughter, Whitney Young; Pat Ambrose, Stevenson
Milestone for Ambrose: In Stevenson's win over Fremd in the sectional final, Ambrose notched the 300th win of his 15-year coaching career. Ambrose has spent his entire career as a head coach at Stevenson.
Out-of-staters: Of the 31 games on Whitney Young's schedule, 13 were against teams from outside of Illinois. The Dolphins played teams from California, Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Minnesota. Whitney Young did not lose to a team from Illinois this season. The Dolphins' five losses came to St. John Bosco and Mater Dei of California, Fairfax Paul VI of Virginia, Rainer Beach of Washington and West Linn of Oregon. Three of those teams have already won state championships.
Outlook: At 6-foot-5, junior forward Parker Nichols is Stevenson's tallest player in the regular rotation. But being a relatively undersized team hasn't bothered Stevenson much this season. The Patriots have either run opponents off the floor with their speed, or shot them out of the gym with their sharp-shooting from 3-point range. This state semifinal, however, might be the first time that Stevenson could feel its lack of size. Whitney Young is a tall, long team, starting with 6-foot-11 center Jahlil Okafor, who will be playing at Duke next year. He's averaging 24.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. His twin tower, 6-foot-9 forward Paul White, is also a load. White, who will be playing at Georgetown next year, is averaging 14.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. "We don't have a lot of height, but it's what we've faced all season and when we go against a bigger team, we just try to out-run them, or out-work them," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said…The Patriots are guard-centric, led from the point by junior Jalen Brunson, who is being pursued by dozens of major Division I college programs. Brunson, who averages 25.4 points per game, took over in the supersectional against Rockford Auburn. He scored a game-high 35 points and scored all 13 of Stevenson's second-quarter points and 14 of the Patriots' 21 fourth-quarter points. Fellow guards Connor Cashaw and Matt Johnson are also averaging double-figures, at 17.8 and 10.5 points per game, respectively. Brunson, Cashaw and Johnson are all deadly 3-point shooters…Brunson is very familiar with Whitney Young. "I've seen them play a lot and I know some of their guys," said Brunson, who has met some of the Dolphins on the AAU circuit. "I'm looking forward to playing them."…As of Wednesday, Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter wasn't exactly sure how he was going to defend Brunson. "I'm not sure who we'll put on him, but I can tell you that we only play defense one way, and that's man-to-man," Slaughter said. "We won't go zone, we won't get into any junk defenses, no box-and-ones or diamond-and-ones. When you can play some of the teams that we played this season, some of the best teams in the country, man-to-man, we know that we can play anyone man-to-man." Slaughter's man for Brunson could be Miles Reynolds, a 6-foot-3 guard who averages 14.2 points and a team-leading 3.2 assists per game. Reynolds is Whitney Young's energy guy. "He's our emotional leader, he's got a heart of a lion," Slaughter said of Reynolds. "He keeps us grounded and focused and he's our big-play guy. As Miles goes, so does our team."
Up next: The winner advances to Saturday's 8:15 p.m. Class 4A state championship game at Carver Arena in the Peoria Civic Center and will face the winner of Friday's semifinal between Edwardsville and Benet. The loser will play in Saturday's 6:30 p.m. third place game.
-- Patricia Babcock McGraw