First-game jitters exist regardless if you’re a player or coach — just ask John Taylor.
A starting guard on Stevenson’s 2007 fourth-place state finisher, Taylor stepped in Monday as acting coach for Stevenson head coach Pat Ambrose, who was away due to a death in the family.
“Everyone is nervous, whether you’re a player or coach,” Taylor said. “Especially without your boss here.”
But with a trio of standout guards leading the way, those nerves subsided rather quickly as Stevenson got out to an 18-0 lead while handling Grayslake Central 76-50 in the opening game of the Bison Classic at Buffalo Grove.
“The absence of Coach Ambrose boosted us a little bit,” said sophomore guard Jalen Brunson, who poured in a team-high 27 points. “We were feeling for him and didn’t want to let him down.”
The Patriots came out on fire, scoring on their first 8 possessions while the Rams managed only 2 shots in that four-minute span with 6 turnovers.
“Their pressure got to us and you saw a group of kids with one kid of varsity experience and 13 without,” said Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe. “We know the effort and level that we have to play at now.”
Brunson canned a 3-pointer 27 seconds into the game and fellow sophomore Connor Cashaw’s steal and layup a minute later set off a scoring frenzy for a team that typically likes to slow it down on offense.
Stevenson scored 13 points in 1:31, with Andrew Stempel and Adam Cohen (8 points) getting into the scoring column with Brunson and Cashaw.
“We want to play up-tempo since we lost a lot of height,” Brunson said. “We’re the type of team that can get out in transition and finish, but also kick it to the open man.”
Danny Reed helped Grayslake Central close to within 23-17 after the first quarter with 12 of his game-high 28 points, but an 11-0 Stevenson run over the next four minutes was costly.
“We’re going to need a lot more nights like that from Danny,” Moe said.
Stevenson built a 48-28 halftime advantage and the lead never got below 19 the rest of the way.
Along with Brunson, Cashaw finished with 18 points and Stempel chipped in 13 for a Patriots squad that shot 50 percent (32 of 64) from the field and forced 23 turnovers.
“They’re phenomenal players,” Taylor said. “They’ll make any rookie coach look good.”
Taylor wasn’t sure if Ambrose would be back to coach Tuesday night’s game against Elgin, but regardless, the team will be well prepared.
“It’s a credit to the program that he’s built that people can step in (when he’s gone) and really follow his lead,” Taylor said.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.