By Joe Henricksen
Evaluating and forecasting young players and their potential can often be a scary proposition when it comes to young basketball prospects. There are some that come along who you just know, including the likes of Derrick Rose and Jereme Richmond in just the past few years.
There is another one coming in Simeon's Jabari Parker, a sensational sophomore prospect who is among the top players in the nation. Then there are those who you can project to be a special player down the road, a player who may not radiate immediately but you feel confident about and believe will become the player you project. And that's where little-known Kendall Stephens of St. Charles East fits in.
After Parker and the enormous talent that's all bottled up in big man Tommy Hamilton of Whitney Young, the Hoops Report feels Stephens will ultimately land in that next spectrum of players. No, he's not a household name. He didn't put up whopping freshman numbers. But when it's all said and done, the Hoops Report believes Stephens will be a high-major prospect. And it will happen sooner than later. The process will take some time -- he's only 160 pounds and still a bit raw and developing -- but the ingredients are there.
With Stephens, who is a shade over 6-3 right now with a body type and length that looks as if he will grow a little more, it's about a package that includes skill, size, bloodlines, the right mindset and enormous potential as he matures physically. He already has great length and huge hands. When he defends on the perimeter it's difficult to get a shot off against him. His greatest strength offensively right now is his perimeter shot with range, though he's now getting to the basket and finishing with dunks and athletic plays. But that silky release from 20 to 22 feet is eye-catching.
"He's a worker and he wants it," says St. Charles East coach Brian Clodi, who watched him in a free-throw drill sink 97 straight from the line. "The best thing is he's not a pretender when it comes to the hard work and wanting it. He really has made a jump as a player since around February and March."
Although the offers aren't flowing in just yet, the interest is certainly on the rise. National runner-up Butler, Southern Illinois and the University of Illinois are coming in to check on Stephens this week. And the young Stephens is taking it all in stride.
"I just hope I am fortunate enough to play college basketball," says Stephens. "I just want a scholarship. I am not concerned with what level I can play at."
Stephens, who averaged just over 6 points a game as a freshman on varsity last season, blossomed this spring and summer with his high school team and the Illinois Wildcats club team. Next spring and summer he will be playing with the Illinois Wolves.
Stephens is the son of former Evanston and Purdue star Everette Stephens, who had a brief tour in the NBA with the Pacers and Bucks. During his junior and senior year from the 1985-86 to 1987-88, Stephens was one of the better guards in the Big Ten and a part of some powerful Boilermaker teams. As a prep star he led the Wildkits to a perfect 32-0 record heading into the state championship game in Assembly Hall. Stephens and the Wildkits, however, fell to Tim Bankston, Ben Wilson and Simeon in the title game.
The younger Stephens soaks up all the advice he can from dad and his past experiences.
"The biggest thing he talks to me about is paying attention to details," says Kendall. "There are certain drills he has me do that continue to help me become a better player. I am so thankful to have him and hearing the different things he went through. I don't think he will ever know the magnitude of thanks I have for all that he does."
The younger Stephens admits he's been a big fan of Purdue. He's seen some of his dad's tapes from his playing days. He's attended Boilermaker games and camps over the years. And his mother's family still lives in Lafayette.
"My dad was just saying that schools are going to be knocking on the door," says Kendall of the colleges that are beginning to show interest. "But I don't want to settle for them just knocking on the door. I need to go out and prove myself and not stay at the same level I am at. This summer has been big, but this winter, playing on the varsity again and being more comfortable, that's when I need to take it to another level."
When talking with Stephens, the character and down-to-earth maturity for such a young player and the way he carries himself on the floor is reminiscent of former Naperville Central star and 2009 City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year Drew Crawford, who is now a key figure for Northwestern. As a player comparison, Stephens is already further along in his development than Crawford at the same stage, though both had such a long way to go physically when they were young.
Stephens, though, is on his way and an emerging prospect to keep a close eye on over the next three years. And he's yet another name in the burgeoning Class of 2013 with so much hope and promise as a basketball player. While he doesn't have any high-major offers, which is all the rage with young players today, he is without question one of the top five prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 -- and that says a lot.
For more information on the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 16th year of publication, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (630)-408-6709