Henricksen: Traveling will pay dividends for Stevenson

SHARE Henricksen: Traveling will pay dividends for Stevenson

You know what Simeon and Young, the last six Class 4A state champions in Illinois, have in common?

OK, other than featuring one-and-done NBA Lottery picks Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor. And, yes, other than boasting a handful of Division I players to go along with their respective superstar.

They both traveled the country, faced top-notch national competition and took their losses in stride without anyone remembering the blemishes when it was all said and done in late March.

Last year’s Young team lost to five out-of-state opponents –– two from California and one each from Oregon, Virginia and Washington.

The 2013 Simeon state championship team lost to Desoto, Tex., and powerful Montverde Academy in Florida, while its 2012 championship team lost one game all year –– to Findlay Prep out of Nevada by 25 points.

So there you go, Stevenson. Another part of the recipe of state championship success is in the books for you.

Coach Pat Ambrose’s team just completed a two-week stretch where it took advantage of being what it is –– arguably the best team in Illinois –– and was able to travel to West Virginia and Massachusetts for two of the premier events in the country. The Patriots went 1-2 in high-profile matchups, including a loss to the No. 1 team in the country, Findlay Prep.

“It was a positive,” says Ambrose of the busy out-of-state stretch that was sandwiched around a key in-state battle with conference power Lake Forest. “You become tighter as a team with all the time spent together. It’s a chance to hang out and it allows our coaches to see the kids and interact with them in a different way.”

While on the excursions, Ambrose said he and his staff marveled a bit at how much travel both Simeon and Young have done over the years after experiencing it first hand.

“There is just so much more to it than what you think and what you’re accustomed to with the travel,” says Ambrose. “Getting on the plane, checking into hotel rooms, then on a bus, off the bus, back on …

“The whole experience is different with going over scouting reports in the hotel room to practicing in different gyms. I mean you practice all year in your gym, and it is different going to practice in another gym. It’s like a college experience with those types of things. Plus, you’re a little bit in the spotlight, you’re put in some pressure situations and a bit out of your comfort zone. And obviously you’re up against some really high-level talent.”

While the trip to West Virginia the first weekend in January produced a split –– the Patriots fell to Jayson Tatum and Chaminade in St. Louis and beat Gonzaga College Prep out of Washington, D.C. –– Saturday’s game to Findlay Prep presented a whole different set of circumstances.

An 84-58 loss isn’t something Stevenson is accustomed to, but this isn’t an ordinary team the Patriots faced.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a high school team like that,” Ambrose said of Findlay.

Findlay Prep is unbeaten, ranked No. 1 in the country, has enormous size and depth while featuring double-digit Division I prospects on the team, including several high-majors.

Nonetheless, this is a core group that’s gone 76-9 over the past two-plus years and already played in Peoria twice.

“The Findlay game was frustrating,” Ambrose admitted. “We aren’t used to that, and we don’t like to lose. This is a group of high-level competitors and we’re used to getting things done. We were none too pleased.”

When Ambrose knew he had the goods and talent to be among the state’s best, he went to work on his schedule to provide major tests for this group.

Stevenson made the jump to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in 2012 and faced Simeon, Benet Academy and Tyler Ulis and Marian Catholic last year in non-conference play.

This year the Patriots upgraded the Thanksgiving Tournament, where it played Hinsdale Central, will again play Simeon and headed out of Illinois for some new, different and challenging experiences.

“It really was a positive experience all the way around,” Ambrose said of the two trips. “They treated us great and I think we got a lot out of it.”

Regardless of what transpires between now and March, that heavy lifting has made Stevenson a better team and more prepared for the rigors of March Madness.

Just ask Simeon and Young if they’ve thought twice about their out-of-state defeats the past couple of years.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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