CARY – Here’s an idea if you’re looking to get out of the house this week.
Don some green and gold, put the kids in the car, and head to Northern Illinois’ Convocation Center for the Class 4A DeKalb Supersectional on Tuesday.
Because even though all of McHenry County’s boys basketball teams have finished playing, we still have a local connection to a team chasing a state title. Pat Ambrose, head coach of Stevenson, has lived with his family in Cary for the past 12 years.
So let’s be good neighbors and jump on the Patriots’ bandwagon.
“We don’t mind at all,” Ambrose said. “There’s plenty of room on the bandwagon.”
Before we go any further, I should acknowledge Ambrose’s only request regarding this column. Ambrose was generous with his time and answered every question that I had, but he wanted to make sure from the outset that I – and everyone – understood that the story here really was about his players, not himself.
In 15 years as a head coach, Ambrose said, he never has had a team quite like this. It’s one thing to have talent – six players have been offered Division I scholarships, including three for basketball and three for football, and a couple of others are drawing interest from college programs – but it’s another thing to have a group that embraces the concept of teamwork above individual performance.
“Our kids are really great kids,” Ambrose said. “They really are. I’m not bashing my team of two or five or seven years ago, but these kids are just terrific, especially with the top ones being as humble as they are.
“They get along well with each other and they work really hard. It’s obvious they do click, most of the time. Nothing is perfect, and we work when it’s not perfect.”
The work has paid off in a big way, as this year’s team set a school record Friday with its 30th win in a sectional championship game against Fremd. The Patriots were led in part by junior guards Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw, who have developed into some of the Chicago region’s best high school players.
Remember when Michigan State coach Tom Izzo visited McHenry this month to watch Stevenson take on the Warriors? He was there to scout Brunson, as have many big-time college coaches in the past few months.
If Izzo or anyone else needs an insiders’ scouting report on Stevenson’s star players, he should ask the young sons of Pat and Traci Ambrose, 11-year-old Matthew and 10-year-old Evan. Matthew attends Cary Junior High, while Evan attends Deer Path Elementary.
Both boys have brought plenty of friends from Cary to watch Stevenson this season. Ambrose praised his team for how well they have treated his young sons.
“My 11-year-old and 10-year-old, they know what’s going on,” Ambrose said with a laugh. “Their video games are all set up with Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw and Matt Morrissey and the other players. They’ve got the autographs and they’ve got the pictures. They know fully well that what they’re seeing is amazing stuff.”
Morrissey is going to Michigan State, by the way, to play safety for the football team.
A close-knit team can be like a family, as can be the coaching fraternity across the region. Ambrose is friends with many coaches in the Fox Valley Conference, including Dundee-Crown’s Lance Huber, Crystal Lake Central’s Rich Czeslawski, Prairie Ridge’s Corky Card and Jacobs’ Jimmy Roberts, among others.
Ambrose was inspired to become a coach by Dick Whitaker, who coached him in the 1980s at Naperville North. Whitaker died 15 years ago and never was able to see Ambrose as a head coach. A week ago Saturday, Whitaker’s wife, Arlene, passed away.
It was an emotional week, Ambrose said, because of what Coach Whitaker meant to him and what Arlene meant to Coach Whitaker.
And it’s clear that Stevenson means a lot to Ambrose.
“I work pretty hard and I’m a pretty demanding coach, so it often doesn’t look like I’m having fun,” Ambrose said. “It’s just kind of my nature and my personality, I don’t really show outward emotion. But I am enjoying it.”
So can we.
Hop on the bandwagon.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.