Watching son's progress a special thrill for Stephens

Updated 1/15/2013 5:42 PM
  • Kendall Stephens, St. Charles East basketball

    Kendall Stephens, St. Charles East basketball

  • Everette Stephens, pictured on the left in his high school days as a 1983 state runner-up for Evanston, enjoyed an up-close look at his son Kendall, left, as a St. Charles East assistant.

    Everette Stephens, pictured on the left in his high school days as a 1983 state runner-up for Evanston, enjoyed an up-close look at his son Kendall, left, as a St. Charles East assistant. Daily Herald file photos

Everette Stephens had an idea about his son's feel for the game of basketball at an early age.

"Kendall was in fifth grade in Indiana and his team was behind late in the game," said Stephens. "As time was expiring, someone (on his team) took a shot and Kendall got the rebound.

"He had the basketball IQ to know how much time was left on the clock and that he couldn't come down with the ball and go back up for a shot so he caught it mid-air and made the game-winning basket," said Everette. "At that moment, I caught a glimpse of his knowledge of the situation. You can't teach it."

Since that time eight years ago, there have been plenty more memorable father-son moments shared by Everette and now-St. Charles East senior Kendall Stephens.

"I remember the first basket he scored his freshman year," recalled Everette, who was watching as a fan from the bleachers that November night in 2009. "It was on an alley-oop pass."

That signaled the much-anticipated start of Kendall Stephens' high school basketball career -- something that can be a bit overwhelming when you're a 14-year-old freshman trying to find your role and fit in on the varsity team.

"Being on the varsity team as a freshman, there was a lot to handle," said Kendall. "But my dad helped me through it and gave me great advice. He told me to stay humble and always work on my game."

Everette Stephens should know what he's talking about because he has lived it -- from his prep days at Evanston High School to his collegiate years and becoming a 1,000-point scorer at Purdue all the way to the NBA with the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks.

But even Everette admits that his son had a leg up on his own days as a high school freshman.

"I wouldn't have been able to have played varsity basketball as a freshman," admitted Everette. "I wasn't ready for it mentally or physically. It's a huge jump playing against guys who are physically stronger and more mature.

"I was called up to varsity during my sophomore year and it was just enough time to get my feet wet," added Everette.

After watching Kendall's freshman season from the stands, Everette improved his seat location as a Saints' varsity assistant coach under former head coach Brian Clodi (for Kendall's sophomore campaign) and current coach Patrick Woods (for Kendall's junior and senior seasons).

"He has always worked with me on my game," said Kendall, whose senior season was cut short due to a torn labrum (shoulder) that will require surgery next week. "It was great to have him push me every day in practice.

"He was harder on me but not in a negative way," added Kendall. "He just expects more out of me. He made sure I was working on something different each off-season and not necessarily my strengths. He's always been big on paying attention to detail.

"It hasn't always been about basketball, either. He has taught me how to be a better person, whether it's folding clothes or keeping my room clean."

As for the basketball part, Everette has emphasized a little bit of everything with his son.

"I've tried to help him develop his skills and improve his overall game," said Everette. "Defensively, he has worked on technique and form. Offensively, he has always been a good shooter but we've worked on driving to the basket and rebounding -- how to make himself a better player.

"I've also explained the mental part of the game," added Everette. "I've shared with him what to look for in certain situations."

There have also been times where he has let Kendall figure things out for himself.

"He knows when to say things and when not to say anything," Kendall said of his dad.

After a solid sophomore season, Kendall averaged 17.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while leading the Saints to a 15-13 record last year as a junior.

Kendall's senior season was highlighted by the Saints' title-winning effort at their own Thanksgiving tournament (first time since 1994) and an 8-3 record prior to his injury.

Everette also noticed his son's growth and maturation.

"Last summer, he came up to me and said, 'Dad, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you around to help me,'" said Everette.

Growing up in Evanston, Everette learned about common sense from his dad and basketball from his older brother.

"My older brother and their close friends played basketball before me," said Everette. "They shared with me how to train and get better. I remember running up and down a hill that we called 'Mt. Trashmore' in Evanston.

"Kendall has had the opportunity to be around some really good coaches and different teachers from grade school to middle school to AAU ball and now high school," added Everette.

Undoubtedly, Kendall's best teacher has been his dad.

"Sometimes we reminisce on where he has been and where he is now," said Everette. "I remember taking him to work out when I was coaching at Elgin Academy. I had the keys to the gym so there were times we'd go work out at 11 p.m.

"My wife wasn't always happy with me but there were times where he was feeling sick but we'd still go work out because I wanted him to learn that there would be times where he'd have to play when he wasn't feeling the right way. At times, there are difficult sacrifices to make."

Always strong, Kendall's relationship with his dad has grown even tighter the past three seasons.

"I've enjoyed just being around him and goofing around with him at practices," said Kendall. "It has been like having a big brother in a sense. He knows when to joke around and he knows when to be serious and show respect to others."

In turn, Kendall has taught his dad a few things as well, especially during his college recruiting process.

"His first scholarship offer came from Northwestern during his sophomore year," said Everette, who wasn't recruited until his senior season. "I didn't think it would come that fast."

"It blew him away," said Kendall.

"I didn't understand it," admitted Everette. "In a sense, I wasn't willing to accept it. Heck, I still had to remind him to take the garbage out and here he was getting an offer to play at a Big Ten school. College recruiting is so different today."

Last year, Kendall announced his commitment to attend another Big Ten school very familiar to his dad -- Purdue.

While his high school career has come to a bittersweet end, Kendall is still doing what he can to contribute from the bench.

"He has seen the game from a different perspective since he's been around us coaches a lot more lately," said Everette. "He has learned how we are planning for games and he has gotten some free meals with us in the hospitality rooms."

Last month, Kendall's game reached a new level from his dad's perspective.

"After games, I've always given him little things to think about like going to the boards more," said Everette. "I also told him that one of these days after a game I'd look at him and have nothing to say."

That day came right before he re-injured his shoulder against Stevenson.

"After the game, all I told him was, 'you're the real deal,'" said Everette.

Spoken like a proud father.

You can reach Craig Brueske at

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