Defensive identity -- so far -- suits Stevenson

 
 
Updated 12/8/2016 10:20 PM
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Stevenson's boys basketball team is shaping up to once again be the team to beat in Lake County.

The Patriots are off to a 6-0 start heading into Friday's North Suburban Conference tilt at Mundelein.

Defense has been Stevenson's calling card so far.

"We've definitely played better defensively than offensively, but that's not unusual at this point in the season," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "We really haven't put in our entire offensive package yet, and we've got guys still trying to find their roles.

"But defensively, I think we're doing well. We're forcing teams to take bad shots. We're pretty strong and athletic and that makes a big difference on defense."

Stevenson has come up with two very impressive defensive outings. The Patriots held NSC foe Lake Forest to just 30 points while allowing Christian Liberty 25 points during the Buffalo Grove Thanksgiving tournament.

Picture perfect: A side-by-side comparison of the Stevenson team photo from this year and last year tells you all you need to know about how Justin Smith became a better player over the off-season.

"You can see how different he looks," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said of the 6-foot-7 Smith, the most sought-after high school player in Lake County. Smith signed with Indiana, choosing the Hoosiers over national champion Villanova.

"Justin put on about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle since last season," Ambrose said. "He's definitely added strength. He's thicker, stronger. He's more explosive.

"He's had a great start to the season."

Smith is averaging about 25 points per game and was the most valuable player of the Buffalo Grove Thanksgiving tournament.

Up and down: The Wauconda scorebook is an interesting read so far this season.

One game looks very different from another.

"We have had our ups and downs so far, that's for sure," Wauconda coach Scott Luetschwager said. "We are just all over the place, especially on offense."

Against Lake Zurich this season, the young Bulldogs, who feature three sophomores (Connor Brannick, Jason Carlson and John Jackson) on the roster, managed just 16 points. Total.

In its next game, Wauconda took Grayslake North to overtime and put up 54 total points, including 16 points in the first three minutes of the game.

"We've got a lot of young or inexperienced players who need to get used to playing varsity basketball," Luetschwager said. "It's getting used to the speed of the game, and how physical it can be. We are definitely learning that. We are a work in progress."

Two players who are a little more refined at this point are Jarod Stonis and Kyle Drobnik. Both seniors are coming off of 18-point games Wednesday against visiting Lakes.

"They have been bright spots for us," Luetschwager said of Stonis and Drobnik. "They are putting a lot of the offensive burden on their shoulders. They know they're going to have to have a lot of nights where they are scoring a lot for us."

Stonis has already had a 35-point game against Richmond-Burton and Drobnik put up 22 points against Fenton.

Dial-a-defense: Who knows what kind of defense Libertyville guard Drew Peterson will see from game to game this season.

At 6-foot-7 with shooting skills, Peterson is a nightmare matchup. So opponents will be approaching him differently than most players.

"So far, we've seen a box-and-1 on Drew, a diamond-and-1, they've face-guarded him, they don't help off of him, it's everything," Libertyville coach Brent Mork said. "He is so skilled with the ball, he can shoot and he can go inside. He's going to be a defensive focus."

The focus of some defenses this season has been so good that Peterson, who is consistently scoring 20-plus points per game and has had two double-doubles this season of 20-plus points, has a hard time getting open.

"We are trying to work with Drew to find other ways to get his hands on the ball," Mork said. "He's going to work with his teammates to use screens more, he's going to have to become more of an offensive rebounder, and he's been doing that lately. Drew definitely likes to be on the perimeter, facing the basket, but he's also working on going inside and posting up when he's got a smaller defender on him."

Good trend: Libertyville is hot after a cool start.

The Wildcats upped their strength of schedule by getting into the loaded St. Viator Thanksgiving tournament, which features strong teams such as Evanston, Prospect and St. Viator.

Libertyville came out of that tournament 1-4, but has won three of its last four games.

"We are definitely trending in the right direction," Libertyville coach Brent Mork said. "We have a really young team, only two guys with extensive varsity experience, and that tournament opened our eyes and showed our young guys right away what high-level basketball is."

D-D-Defense: Lakes coach Chris Snyder isn't sure, but he thinks defense could be his team's calling card this season.

After placing second at the Johnsburg Thanksgiving tournament, the Eagles were allowing about 40 points per game, and held Lake Zurich to 36 points in the championship game.

But then Lakes gave up 68 points to Warren, 70 points to Grayslake North and 55 points on Wednesday to Wauconda.

"We're trying to find that defensive identity," Snyder said. "We have to stay consistent. We've had it in stretches, but we have to be able to do it for four quarters in every game.

"There are times when we just check out. But defense is one of our focuses and we want to get that defensive identity back."

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