Boys Basketball: Notre Dame’s Duante Stephens burning up summer circuit with Fire

Story Image Notre Dame's Duante Stephens flies to the basket during the Wheeling Hardwood Classic 3rd place game on Friday, December 30, 2011. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

Before heading down to South Carolina for last weekend’s Nike Peach Jam AAU Tournament, Notre Dame junior-to-be Duante Stephens received what he felt was valuable advice from a former high school teammate.

“I talked to (Tennessee redshirt freshman) Quinton Chievous about how big the tournament was going to be,” said Stephens, who played with the Chicago Mac Irvin Fire U16s. “He told me that a lot of the (college) coaches at the tournament would not be looking for scoring, but for the small things. He said, ‘The coaches know what you can do, but you have to show them the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, like diving for loose balls.’

“I feel like I did.”

Stephens, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, and the Fire head to Las Vegas this weekend, where they once again will play in front of hordes of college coaches.

Not that the attention and scrutiny is anything new. Stephens received his first recruiting letter when he was in seventh grade and, his freshman year, then-Illinois head coach Bruce Weber attended one of his high school practices.

“I guess Weber saw a video of our game against Whitney Young, and like two days later he was in our gym,” Stephens said. “It was then I realized my hard work was paying off. Colleges were starting to look at me. I got used to it after awhile. But I’m still surprised by (the attention). But I feel blessed to have those things.”

Weber has moved on to Kansas State, but Illinois remains interested in Stephens, who averaged 11 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore last season. Two weeks ago, Miami of Ohio became the first school to offer Stephens a scholarship. He said schools like Iowa, DePaul, Northwestern, Toledo and Green Bay continue to show a high level of interest.

After helping Notre Dame to a surprising 20-9 season last winter without any senior starters, Stephens has continued to progress this summer. Mike Irvin, who runs the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, said the lefty Stephens reminded him of former Indiana sharpshooter Calbert Cheaney.

“He’s an athletic kid who can score in bunches,” Irvin said. “He knocks down jump shots and gets into the lane. He’s an above-average rebounder for his position. He has the college body and is strong. He can take bumps.

“He’s a good kid and his head is on straight. I think he’ll really have a breakout year (in 2012-13) and average 20 points. He’s a young junior, who is really supposed to be going into his sophomore year, so he really has upside.”

Stephens grew up on Chicago’s South Side but moved to the Far North Side shortly before he enrolled at Notre Dame, turning down chances to play at powerhouses Simeon and Morgan Park.

As a freshman, he said he learned a lot playing alongside Chievous and Rodney Pryor, now in junior college. Stephens said coach Tom Les has hardly gone easy on him.

“I told him I wanted to play college basketball and he said he would push me as hard as I could take it, but that I had to realize he just wanted the best for me,” Stephens said. “I’m pretty much adjusted to it and to playing the way he wants me to play.”

The Dons have high expectations this season, despite the decision of 6-8 junior Jon Johnson to transfer to St. Joseph. Stephens said the arrival of 5-9 senior guard Jake Maestranzi (South Elgin) has added a new dimension to the team, which lost just two games this summer league season. Maestranzi averaged 11.9 points and 3.1 assists and sank 56 three-pointers last winter.

The Dons also return quick guard Donte “Scooter” Stephenson, jump shooter Matt Mooney and inside/outside threat Eddie Serrano, all incoming seniors.

“(Maestranzi) is a great addition. He’s a point guard who is pass-first, but he also came through when we needed him to score (in the summer). He hits the post (with the pass) and really pressures the ball,” Stephens said. “We’re undersized, but we’re fast and get after it on D, and everybody is unselfish.”

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