If the St. Charles East boys basketball team is going to deliver on its own big expectations for the season, it looks like several Saints who expected to be part of a deep supporting cast for Kendall Stephens might instead have to take center stage.
Just as the Saints hit a busy stretch – East has four games during the next eight days – uncertainty about their Purdue-bound senior’s availability for the rest of the season has again bubbled to the surface.
Tonight’s home game against Evanston – the alma mater of Stephens’ dad, East assistant coach Everette Stephens – will be the third straight game Stephens will miss after he aggravated a torn labrum during a Proviso West Holiday Tournament loss against Stevenson.
“He’s out indefinitely,” East coach Pat Woods said after Thursday’s practice, which Stephens watched in street clothes. “He’s going to the doctor in a week or so, we’ll know more then. Unfortunately he’s got a lot of pain on movement. He’s just going to be out indefinitely. We’re not playing games with it.
“... Until he goes to the doctor, he could need surgery [imminently] or, who knows, maybe with more time and some more exercise, he’ll get better. But right now, he’s out indefinitely. That could mean he’s back in a week, or it could mean he’s never back.”
Like any tough-minded team would, East is putting on a brave face regarding Stephens’ murky status. The Saints (9-4) contend they have enough talent and depth to thrive even without Stephens, an argument bolstered by their win against Glenbard East in one of the two Proviso West tournament games Stephens missed.
But on the other side of the coin, it’s only fair to note that East then lost to St. Joe to cap the tournament, the same St. Joe team that the Saints whipped, 71-53, at East’s Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament.
The before-and-after outcomes against St. Joe are an extreme example; the Saints aren’t 20-plus points better, most nights, with Stephens in the mix. But Woods touted Stephens as an all-state candidate as the Saints won their own Thanksgiving tournament, and you don’t lose players like that without feeling some pain.
“Everyone’s got to step up,” East center Dan Wilkerson said. “We’ve got to look for more people to score the ball and all around just work harder as a team.”
The Saints are better equipped to overcome losing a premier player than most teams. East has several guys on a deep bench that are surely itching for more playing time in a rotation that has been tough to crack.
Some guys are about to get their chance, and their response will likely determine whether the Saints will remain a serious contender in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division race. Larkin, arguably East’s top competition, will be looking for a regular-season sweep against the Saints on Thursday in Elgin.
With Stephens sidelined, look for East to feature skillful point guards Dom Adduci and Cole Gentry playing alongside one another even more than they have so far.
“If we need scoring, then we shift Dom over to the 2,” Woods said ... “And then it’s also, are we going to go big and go 1-3-1 zone, or are we going to go small and pressure. So I think you could see a smaller lineup with A.J. [Washington] and Ben [Skoog], Cole, Dom and then a third guard in there as well, maybe James [McQuillan], Jake [Asquini], Joren [Wilson], one of those kids in there as well.”
East still has options. East still has versatility. But, at least for now, East doesn’t have Stephens, so the Saints will need to prove themselves all over again.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.