Star-studded audiences watching Stevenson
The gym at Stevenson was packed from top to bottom last Friday night for the Patriots' North Suburban Conference Lake Division battle for first place against Zion-Benton.
Yet, not everyone could blend in with the crowd.
The Stevenson student section made sure to point out the star power in the building.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was there to scout Stevenson star guard Jalen Brunson. Ditto for Illinois head coach John Groce, who brought his entire staff.
It's not the first time Brunson and his teammates have attracted such an esteemed following.
"Some of those coaches have come to practice a lot, too," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "Our players recognize what a gift it is to play in front of some of those guys. They really do. They're kind of used to it now. I think they rise to the occasion. It's not so much about getting nervous, they're like, ‘Hey it's good.'
"I don't think our fans are quite used to it, though. They're a little star-struck still."
Brunson is trying his best to keep all the star treatment in perspective, which can't be easy. Izzo and Groce giddily took turns talking Brunson up after Stevenson's win over Zion-Benton.
"My coaching staff and my parents keep me level to the ground," said Brunson, who is rated the second-best point guard in the Class of 2015 by ESPN. "They really just have me keep the same mindset."
While staying in the moment as much has he can, Brunson also appreciates every chance he gets to prepare for the future. He says the environment during the Zion-Benton game reminded him of a college game.
"Being in a tough environment like that, that's how it's going to be in college," Brunson said. "You've got to get ready for it now. The intensity our students bring really brought like a college environment. It was pretty good."
Brunson, who scored 20 points against the Zee-Bees, already has offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue, DePaul, Creighton, SMU and Xavier.
Next in line:
The fierce recruitment of Stevenson guard Jalen Brunson has been like a winning lottery ticket for his teammates.
The more Brunson gets seen, the more they get seen.
Junior forward Connor Cashaw is hoping to be able to ride the Brunson bonanza to his own college offers.
With Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Illinois coach John Groce looking on, Cashaw had 24 points and 11 rebounds in last week's win over Zion-Benton.
"He's so versatile and quick and he tracks the ball real well," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said of Cashaw's rebounding ability. "He's also got great hands. He's a great player. That's what Coach Izzo said. He said, ‘Wow, that kid is close to our level.' And he is. He's just getting better and better."
A big part of Stevenson guard Jalen Brunson's success can be traced back to his teammates.
He's got a few that are right there in his league.
Junior forward Connor Cashaw is a five-position kind of player who is getting all kinds of looks from college scouts. Junior guard Matt Johnson is a scrappy, gritty guard who is having a breakout season. He scored a career-high 26 points in Stevenson's win over Zion-Benton. Then there's senior forward Matt Morrissey, an all-around athlete who just signed to play football at Michigan State next year.
"The 2-on-2 games with Morrissey and Connor and Jalen and Matt in practice are pretty good," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "When we run a 2-on-2 drill with those four, I don't know who's best. They really get after each other."
It's been 15 years since Pat Ambrose took over as head boys basketball coach at Stevenson.
Last week's home game against Zion-Benton, which was a battle for first place in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division, drew a crowd he's never seen before in his gym. It was standing room only, and not an open parking spot was to be found around the entire campus.
"That was definitely our best crowd since we got the green seats (bleachers in both end zones)," Ambrose said. "We had a lot of people come from Zion-Benton and a lot from Stevenson and I thought (Stevenson athletic director) Trish Betthauser and everyone at Stevenson did a great job of preparing for that."
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