Jalen Brunson has led Stevenson to state prominence over the past four years. The Patriots have played in major national shootouts, won two Proviso West Holiday Tournament titles and second and third-place finishes in Class 4A over the last two seasons respectively.
The big trophy, the Class 4A state championship, is the one missing piece.
“That’s the goal,”Brunson said. “There is no question about it. That’s what all this has been for.”
Stevenson basketball coach Pat Ambrose isn’t a glory hound. He hasn’t chased state titles at all costs. He’s an educator and a high school basketball aficionado. But you can bet he wants that trophy badly. Anyone that loves the sport as much as he does would.
“It’s been a lot of fun, being in all the big games, taking on big teams with [Brunson] leading the charge,” Ambrose said. “It’s been super fun, an amazing run. I think it’s the greatest thing in the world because I think high school basketball is awesome.”
The Patriots have come so close the past two years. They lost to eventual champions Simeon (with Jabari Parker) and Young (with Jahlil Okafor). The Public League powerhouses with sure-fire NBA first round draft picks are out of the way now. This is Stevenson’s turn, the biggest two days in Lincolnshire basketball history.
The Patriots face Bolingbrook in the first state semifinal on Friday at 6:30 at Carver Arena in Peoria.
The Raiders are talented but have been inconsistent the past two seasons. Colorado State-bound Prentiss Nixon averages 17 points. Big man Julian Torres, a 6-9, Wisconsin-Green Bay recruit, is probably the key to the game. Bolingbrook will need a big game from him to hang with Stevenson (28-3). The Patriots don’t have a player capable of guarding Torres if he is energetic and effective, which is not always the case.
Bolingbrook (24-6) hasn’t played a team this season as talented and experienced as Stevenson, so it may take the Raiders a quarter or so to adjust. By then it might be too late.
Geneva (30-3) vs. Normal (32-1), 8:15 p.m.
All the experts said Geneva probably didn’t have enough back court talent to win a regional and definitely didn’t have enough to win a sectional. The Vikings have proven them wrong every step of the way. They are huge.
Expect Nate Navigato to be the best player on the floor. The Buffalo recruit, who averages 21 points, can score in a variety of ways.
The Ironmen won’t care too much about any of that though. Not after knocking off Simeon. Normal proved it can handle any team left in the field. If Alex Peacock, Tyler Sebring and Tyler Vance can maintain the level of intensity they brought to Illinois State on Tuesday, there is no reason the Ironmen can’t take the big trophy home to central Illinois.
Class 3A: Morgan Park (22-6) vs. Belleville Althoff (27-3), 12:15 p.m.
Marcus LoVett, Jr. arrived from California and sent Illinois fans into a tizzy. He’s the dynamic point guard that could possibly turn things around in Champaign. He also sent the Mustangs’ Public League rivals into a frenzy. Several schools tried to prove he was ineligible this season.
LoVett is eligible and Morgan Park has been unstoppable since getting ousted by Orr in the Public League playoffs back in February. Junior guard Charlie Moore had a breakout season and he’s trying to win a third consecutive state title with the Mustangs.
Belleville Althoff has all the pieces necessary to wreck those plans. Sophomore guard Jordan Goodwin is a force, averaging 20 points and 19 rebounds. He scored 33 against St. Joseph in a double overtime loss back in January. Althoff has two other major talents: 6-5 junior Brendon Gooch averages 14 points and eight rebounds, and 6-4 junior point guard Tarkus Ferguson averages 14 points and five rebounds.
Rockford Lutheran (29-2) vs. St. Joseph (27-6), 2 p.m.
St. Joseph is the most talented of the eight teams in Peoria. The Chargers have three high-major players: Nebraska recruit Glynn Watson, Northwestern recruit Jordan Ash and 6-9 junior Nick Rakocevic. Early in the year chemistry problems tore the team apart. Things have calmed down over the past month, but the Chargers have had the easiest road to Peoria so it’s possible a major test could spark the fires again. It’s also possible that Watson and Ash will dominate and Rakocevic will prove he’s the state’s best junior.
Rockford Lutheran, led by 6-1 senior Joseph Kellen (19 pts) should be totally outclassed, but St. Joseph has a nagging habit of playing down to the competition so stay tuned.