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Stevenson sophs play more like seniors
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

Stevenson’s Connor Cashaw drives around Rockford Boylan’s Drew Gaurke on Tuesday in the Class 4A NIU supersectional.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

Stevenson’s Cameron Green, left, and Rockford Boylan’s Jim Bridges battle under the basket Tuesday in the Class 4A NIU supesectional.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson drives to the basket against Rockford Boylan during Tuesday night’s Class 4A NIU supersectional.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/14/2013 9:24 PM

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There might be a reason second-year high school students are known as sophomores. The word sophomoric means unsophisticated and immature.

Let’s face it, high school sophomores, most of whom are only 15 or 16 years old, don’t always behave appropriately, and they might not always make the most responsible decisions.

But there are exceptions to the rule. And the Stevenson boys basketball team is proving that sophomores don’t necessarily have to be sophomoric on the court.

The Patriots are headed to the state finals for just the third time in school history and they are getting there in large part on the strength of their sophomore class. Sophomore guards Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw lead the team in scoring at 21.8 points and 16.2 points per game respectively. A third sophomore, forward Cameron Green, is Stevenson’s biggest spark off the bench. He averages 6.9 points and can be a monster on the boards.

The biggest question now for Stevenson, which will take on Edwardsville (30-2) in Friday’s 8:15 p.m. Class 4A semifinal at the Peoria Civic Center, is how these young guns will respond under the hotter and brighter lights of the state’s biggest stage. Will the sophomores be able to resist the sophomoric tendencies they’ve avoided all season?

“I think we’ll be fine,” said Brunson, who started last season as a freshman, as did Cashaw. “I think we’ll handle everything downstate very well. We handled (the supersectional) well and the crowd was really loud. I got butterflies in my stomach at times, but you can’t ever let that determine how you play. You’ve got to remember how hard you’ve worked to get to this point.”

Brunson and Cashaw, who do a majority of the ball-handling for Stevenson, worked an efficient game in the supersectional. The Patriots had only 9 turnovers to 15 assists against Rockford Boylan and they hit 47 percent of their shots, including 50 percent of their 20 attempts from 3-point range.

“We’ve got good guards and I trust them. They are veterans now,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. “They played a lot last year and they’re battle-tested.”

They also have support. Stevenson’s young sophomores can look to steady seniors Andy Stempel and John Duffy for help. Meanwhile, assistant coaches Kevin Stineman and John Taylor can also provide perspective. They made up the backcourt of Stevenson’s last state finals team in 2007.

“Being downstate is a big stage and we’re young. But we have mental toughness and we’ll have a lot of people guiding us in the right direction,” Cashaw said. “It’s really good that guys like Stineman and Taylor have experienced this moment before. We can look to them.”

Stineman can personally vouch for the growth of Brunson and Cashaw. He goes against them every day at practice.

Stineman went on to play at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and now works in sales in the area. He rushes to practice after work each day and his main responsibility is working with the guards and running scout team against them.

“They may be sophomores, but they’re tenured out there. They play like they’ve been doing it for years,” Stineman said of Brunson and Cashaw. “They keep their composure so well, it’s impressive.

“Jalen is so good. What is he … 16 years old? But he plays the game like he’s 30. His basketball IQ is so good. Connor is the same way. From his freshman year to now, the strides he has made have been unbelievable.

“They’ve played so well against some really good teams all season. Being downstate is going to be no different for them.”

Well, it might be just a little bit different.

It’s likely every player at the state finals will feel more butterflies than usual. And for Stevenson’s sophomores, as savvy as they are, the nerves may be magnified. They still are very young.

“The nerves will probably be there a little bit, but I think we’ll settle into the games and do what we do best,” said Green, who scored 8 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in the supersectional against Rockford Boylan. “We’ve got some young 15 and 16 year olds, but I feel like we’ll be able to play at our maximum level because we’re a pretty mature group.”

In other words, prepare to see sophomores being anything but sophomoric in Peoria.