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City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year: Young’s DJ Steward

DJ Steward of Young is the 25th recipient of the award.

Joe Henricksen, editor/publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, a high school basketball publication for two-plus decades and currently a recruiting service that goes out to college coaches across the country, has awarded a Player of the Year in Illinois for the past 24 years. DJ Steward of Young is the 25th recipient of the award.

Young’s DJ Steward’s initial splash as a high school player was a big one.

Steward led Fenwick to a state title game appearance as a freshman. From a production and team success standpoint, he put together what was arguably the best freshman season of any player in this state since Glenbrook South’s Jon Scheyer in the 2002-2003 season.

Steward produced and won. He was the leading scorer for a team that reached a Class 3A state championship game, losing to Morgan Park in overtime.

The talents and trajectory were easy to see at a very young age. He continued to produce, scoring over 2,100 career points between his time at Fenwick and Young, while being a part of 96 wins in his four-year career.

Over the past 12 months he’s risen in the national rankings, clearly emerged as the top prospect in Illinois in the Class of 2020 and kept an appealing demeanor and personality through it all.

Steward talks about his season, his career, his future, where he gets his disposition and spirit from and the agony of all that’s been taken away from him over the past week. That disappointment includes not being able to compete for a potential state championship run and missing out on playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game.

In DJ Steward’s words …

I cried. When I first found out I was on my way home from practice and I saw it on Twitter. As soon as I saw it I just dropped by head. It was a heartbreaking moment. Realizing I had already played my final game, I started crying. My mom hugged me, said it was going to be OK and everything was going to work out. Now that I look back on it a week later, I do know God has a plan for me and everything will work out.

The main goal in high school, the main goal for any hooper at this age is to win a state championship. That’s been a goal of mine since I entered high school, my No. 1 goal. That takes a toll on me, knowing we had that chance to go and win a state championship and then to not lose to a team, but to lose to the coronavirus.

Now that I look back at things, it’s been a blessing and amazing to have the opportunities that I’ve had –– to be chosen for the all-star games, the awards, and all the things I’ve accomplished. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, my coaches, my family and God, pushing me every day and motivating me to be the person I am today, both on and off the court.

I remember going to the McDonald’s All-American games when they were in Chicago. I think I went to three of them, and that became a goal of mine. And to actually be chosen for the game but not actually be able to play in the game is very tough. It’s very tough. It hurts to be honest. A lot of players throughout the country have been talking and it took a toll on everyone. It’s something you dream of playing in.

For all basketball players, it depends on who you are associated with and surround yourself with. For me, that’s my parents. I’m always around them and they raised me well. They just always preached the most perfect things, to be humble, carry myself the right way, treat people how you want to be treated, be respectful. I try to associate and be around people with the same mentality and spirit as I have.

Definitely Kobe. He was one I looked up to. Watched a lot of Kyrie. Now I’m really into watching Ja Morant. He brings a different swag to the game, high character guy with a great spirit who plays with intensity.

I am very excited about the next step. I’m excited to get down there [to Duke], to get to know my coaches and teammates, get a feel for the campus, to be around great people. I want to be associated with great people and Duke just has great people. To be able to go there is a blessing. I’m ready to work. I’ll put in the work, go hard. Having the opportunity to win a national championship at a national powerhouse is what I want, so to have that is special.

The grind is what stands out [about high school.] Coming in my freshman year I was just a kid going out there playing basketball, doing it for fun. Something snapped in me where I just started taking it more serious. More workouts. Going harder. Now that I look back, I put in so much work and it’s definitely paid off for me, and it’s paid off for my family with them making so many sacrifices for me. The grind of high school has been the most fun, because once you get to this position, where you are looking back, the grind paid off and all the hard work I put in.

City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year Winners

2020: DJ Steward, Young

2019: EJ Liddell, Belleville West

2018: Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon

2017: Mark Smith, Edwardsville

2016: Charlie Moore, Morgan Park

2015: Jalen Brunson, Stevenson

2014: Jahlil Okafor, Young

2013: Jahlil Okafor, Young

2012: Jabari Parker, Simeon

2011: Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park

2010: Jereme Richmond, Waukegan

2009: Drew Crawford, Naperville Central

2008: Kevin Dillard, Homewood-Flossmoor

2007: Derrick Rose, Simeon

2006: Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North

2005: Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North

2004: Shaun Livingston, Peoria Central

2003: Shannon Brown, Proviso East

2002: Dee Brown, Proviso East

2001: Pierre Pierce, Westmont

2000: Dwyane Wade, Richards

1999: Leon Smith, King

1998: Quentin Richardson, Young

1997: Brian Wardle, Hinsdale Central

1996: Ronnie Fields, Farragut