Stepheson Takes Game To Next Level

Alex Stepheson and his Harvard-Westlake teammates got off to a rough start at the Desert Heat Classic prior to the New Year with a 59-56 setback to Ayala, but Stepheson & Co. have been on a roll ever since.

Though it's hard to fault the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Stepheson for the loss to Ayala – since he finished with 21 points, 23 boards and 5 blocks.

"He was playing out of his mind," Harvard-Westlake coach Greg Hilliard said.

Stepheson followed the loss with a 23-point, 24-rebound performance in a 66-43 victory against Otay Ranch, then had 17 points and 7 boards in an easy win against Palm Desert and finished the tournament with 17 points and 9 rebounds in the third-place game, a win against Reno High (Nev.).

Then Stepheson started league play on a high note – with 22 points, 24 rebounds and 8 blocks in a win against Crespi last night.

"They played us tough for the first half, but then we pulled away in the second half," Hilliard said. "He went up against a 6-foot-7 center who was putting up some big numbers."

"He's been a lot more consistent this year," added Hilliard. "He's playing hard even against weaker opponents. Last year, he had a tendency to play down against 6-foot-4 centers and do nothing. He had to take care of his mental focus – and he has."

"He's also gotten much better about protecting the ball and not putting it on the floor when he doesn't have to," added Hilliard.

Hilliard said that his best guess is that Stepheson's overall numbers aren't far off from where they winded up a year ago: 17 points and 15 boards. However, that will likely change starting now.

"He's been much stronger in the early part of the schedule," Hilliard said. "In the league, he'll pad those stats."

"People who haven't seen him much over the past year are amazed at how much he's improved, but we see him every day – so it's been a gradual progression to us," Hilliard added.

Hilliard said that Tar Heels assistant Steve Robinson watched three of Stepheson's games in mid-December at the Ocean View Tournament and Roy Williams came to a practice prior to the game against USC and was slated to come to a game after the game against the Trojans.

"I'm sure that changed after the outcome of the game, because he never made it out here afterwards," Hilliard said.

Harvard-Westlake is 11-3 and will play Saturday in a showcase in Santa Barbara against Ventura High.

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