Team Herenton making the adjustment at Team Stevenson
If you beat them, who says that you can't someday join them?
Just two years ago, Rodney Herenton was doing everything in his power to take down Stevenson. And his younger brother Willie was cheering him on as hard as he could from the stands.
Rodney was a sophomore guard starting for Whitney Young, which was facing Stevenson in the 2014 Class 4A state semifinal in Peoria. Willie, meanwhile, was a freshman guard who had played on the sophomore team at Whitney Young that season.
"We wanted to win it," Rodney Herenton said. "We knew what a good team Stevenson was. We knew all about (former Stevenson star guard) Jalen Brunson. We really wanted to beat Stevenson."
Now, both Herenton brothers are wanting to help Stevenson beat whichever team is currently in its way.
The Herentons, who celebrated Whitney Young's semifinal win over Stevenson and its eventual state championship in 2014, transferred to Stevenson from Whitney Young last summer. And both have written goals posted in their bedrooms indicating that they want to bring another state championship to Lincolnshire.
Stevenson returned to Peoria last March after a third-place finish in 2014 and got its own state title, winning the 2015 Class 4A championship.
"We never thought it would happen this way, us being at Stevenson," said Rodney Herenton, a 6-foot-2 senior. Willie Herenton is a 6-foot-1 junior. "But it was a family decision. We wanted something new. We were looking for an excellent school and we were looking for a place where the sports matched the academics. It was our decision to move and we're happy with it.
"So far, it's been great at Stevenson."
Likewise, the Herentons have been pretty great for Stevenson, which is nearly a completely different team from last year's state championship team. Only one starter, junior forward Justin Smith, returned.
With so many new players, there has certainly been a sharp learning curve for the Patriots, particularly for the Herentons, who have been under-the-gun since moving into the district late in the summer, to learn a new system.
But both Herentons have been in the starting lineup, and both have made key contributions throughout the season with multiple double-figure games. Rodney scored a season-high 20 points last week against North Chicago while Willie had one of his best games (18 points) against Warren in December.
"Culturally, socially, Rodney and Willie are fitting in just fine at Stevenson," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "They are comfortable with the guys and they are open, friendly and talkative.
"But with basketball, there has been some ups and downs for sure. Sometimes, it's been three steps forward, one step back. It's been like that with a lot of our guys. Four of our top eight guys, including Rodney and Willie, didn't even play in the program last year. There are a lot of new pieces.
"But everyone is starting to pick it up."
It sure seems like it.
The Patriots are now 15-6 and again in position to win the North Suburban Conference Lake Division title. They are currently 5-2 in Lake games.
"So far, we've been a little up and down," Willie Herenton said. "We're all good individually. But I think we're starting to figure out that we need to play more as a team."
Team Herenton, which includes dad Rodney, an investment banker, mom Andrea and younger brother Samuel, a player on the Stevenson freshman basketball team, loves the suburbs. The shift from city living has been very much appreciated.
The family lives in Buffalo Grove.
"It's more calm here," Willie said. "There's not as much traffic. The people are really nice here.
"And we love Stevenson. It's very college-like. There's a lot of energy here."
The energy that the Herentons bring to the court is similar, since both are guards, but is also different in some ways, too.
Rodney is a physical player who uses his strength well to drive the lane and get to the basket. Willie has more of a point guard mentality and likes to set up his teammates and direct the offense. He's also got a good mid-range jumper.
"We like playing together because we kind of play off of each other," Willie Herenton said. "We know how to find each other. We know each other's tendencies. We played together since middle school."
"The ball has always been in our hands, ever since we started playing when we were 6 or 7 at the YMCA," Rodney Herenton said. "If I don't have it, Willie probably does. We play well together."
The Herentons also play nice together. As competitive as they are, their one-on-one competitions usually don't get heated enough to get nasty.
Willie Herenton, 18 months younger than Rodney, calmly admits that Rodney usually beats him in their driveway games.
"Rodney is bigger than me," Willie said with a laugh. "But I'll get him someday."
For now, Willie is just trying to keep up with Rodney, who will likely be playing major college basketball next year. He's got an offer from Dartmouth and has been asked to be a preferred walk-on at Stanford.
Rodney got a 4.1 grade point average with two advanced placements classes in his first semester at Stevenson.
Meanwhile, Willie has gotten interest from multiple schools, including St. Louis, DePaul, Northwestern, Air Force Wooford, Siena and Memphis.
So far, no talk of a package deal.
"We really hadn't thought about it, about playing together in college," Rodney said. "I guess we figured that nothing lasts forever.
"It will be a change when I leave, and it will be weird not seeing (Willie) all the time. But I'm excited for what the future holds. It will be fun.
"Right now, I'm just loving the present. I'm trying to get the most of it."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw