Posted On: 03/21/20 12:00 PM
The race for the Prep Hoops Illinois Player of the Year was an interesting one this year. There were seven or eight players that could have made legit cases for the award. In the end it went back to the preseason favorite.
We are pleased to announce that the winner of the PrepHoopsIllinois Player of the Year Award is Whitney Young senior combo guard DJ StewardDJSteward6'2" | PGWhitney Young | 2020State#22NationIL!
Steward has been one of the top prospects in the state of Illinois throughout his entire career. In this story we look back at the last four years and recruitment! The first time we saw him play was at the Pangos All-Midwest Frosh/Soph Camp heading into his freshman season at Fenwick. This was our evaluation of him from that outing.
The Pangos camp was our first opportunity to see the much hyped Fenwick freshman. He stands at 6’1” with long arms and rangy frame. Steward can really handle the ball in both the half court and transition. Slippery through traffic and gets to the hoop with ease. Slick passer that has a good feel for the game.
That same weekend we sat down with him for his first story with PHI. On his game he said, “I am really versatile and play both sides of the ball. I am really long so that helps me out. Playing hard every time I step out on the court. Getting good shots up.”
Pretty accurate report on the player he was then and would become down the line! With Fenwick Steward had a strong freshman season where we saw him play multiple times. That included a playoff game against Westinghouse.
Steward is one of the top freshmen in the state of Illinois. The 6’1” 2020 prospect has a long and rangy frame. He should be able to grow a few more inches in the next three years. Steward is a big time athlete that has speed and acceleration with the ball in his hands. Blow by ability off the bounce as he showed on a few drives including one where he grabbed a defensive rebound and went coast to coast. Slick euro step finish in traffic. Also caught an alley-oop from Keller. Playing mostly off the ball he flashes his passing including a nice find inside for an assist. Projects well on the defensive end with his lateral quickness and agility. D1’s need to start monitoring him this spring on the grassroots circuit. He finished with 8 points.
His strong play continued into the spring with Meanstreets where he played on the 15U level running a three headed point guard monster with two of his fellow top prospects in Ahron UlisAhronUlis6'1" | PGMarian Catholic | 2020State#126NationIL and Tyler BeardTylerBeard6'3" | PGWhitney Young | 2020State#196NationIL. His play earned him an invite to the prestigious Nike Elite 100 Camp where he was the only Illinois prospect from his class there. PHI saw him all week and here were our thoughts.
Our last Illinois prospect was the only 2020 from the Land of Lincoln at the event. He debuted this week at #1 in the state’s first class rankings. At check in Steward measured 6”0 ½” without shoes, 149 pounds, and had a 73” wingspan. He will obviously need to add strength over the next few years. Has the frame and time to do it! What we love about Steward is how smooth he is with the ball along with his demeanor on the floor. It is clear he loves the game and guys gravitate toward him. Used his slick handles to get in the lane throughout the camp. Won time after time off the dribble. It was definitely an adjustment for him going against the elite shot blocking bigs as he strugged finishing around or over them at times, but did make his share at the rim. Mid-range game was on point. Slightly long release that can be sped up in time, but has a clean and pure stroke. Flashes ability on the defensive end with his length, lateral quickness, and anticipation. Even blocked a three pointer. High-major prospect.
He left the camp as the top player in the Illinois 2020 class first ranking. A distinction that he and friend Adam MillerAdamMiller6'4" | PGMorgan Park | 2020State#34NationIL would fight back and forth for during their careers like a tug of war match! It was back to Fenwick for his sophomore campaign and time to live up to his lofty status both in Illinois and as a national recruit. His first major opportunity to do that was at the Chicago Elite Classic against rival OPRF in the primetime Friday night game.
Steward is one of the best handful of prospects in the state regardless of class. He is a 6’2” long and rangy lead guard. Projectable game to be a big time player at the next level. He was just average at the Chicago Elite Classic. Steward had a lot of trouble finishing at the rim against the tough OPRF defenders. He did show a knack for getting his own rebounds with a quick and explosive second jump. Steward grabbed seven offensive rebounds that were mostly off his own misses. Hit a corner three, but the shot from deep was not something he looked for consistently. Steward had 13 points (5-16 FG) and 8 boards on the night. It wasn’t his best performance, but I would take him over any player that participated in the three high school games long term!
He played at a higher level later that month when we saw him put on a show at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament!
Steward was the highest ranked prospect at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament and lived up to that billing. He was fantastic in their win. The long and rangy point guard is so poised and mature for his age. Steward did pretty much whatever he wanted against Proviso West. So slick attacking off the bounce and getting to the rim with ease. Explosive burst on first step to blow past defenders. Finishes with runners/floaters as well as layups around defenders. Steward also connected on 2-3 from beyond the arc. Going to be a plus shooter at the next level from the point guard position. He might have been at his best dishing the rock with a ton of great finds to shooters and teammates in transition. Active on ball defender that knows how to use his length. He had 22 points and 6 dimes. Top 2 player in the Illinois 2020 class and a five star talent nationally.
He was hitting his stride by the spring including a dominant performance at Run N Slam with Meanstreets on the 16U level!
Steward was incredible throughout the entire event and his play on Sunday might have been the best we have ever seen the point guard. The 2020 guard had his complete game working! Steward is an ultra-smooth guard that has the ability with his handles to get wherever he wants with his speed. It opens up so many avenues for himself and others. He won off the dribble getting to the cup on drives as well as finding teammates for open threes. His jumper was about as good as we have seen it being automatic from both mid-range and three. His cat like quickness on the defensive end and length got him a few steals too. Clear top 2 player in Illinois and a potential five-star nationally.
Then he attended Nike Elite 100 for the second year in a row in another opportunity to play with and against the best of the best while national eyes were on him.
Steward was solid throughout the week, but didn’t have a defining dominant game when we saw him. The #2 prospect in the 2020 class who will be transferring from Fenwick to a TBD high school was best using his handles getting in the lane where he scored several times at the rim with runners/floaters/layups in the game we evaluated. Hit a few jumpers, but it was streaky during the event. We think he will be a consistent shooter during his career with a sound shot mechanically. Got out in transition several times for some finishes. Was solid passing it. I thought where he made the biggest impact was defensively. Steward used his length, lateral quickness, and anticipation to give opposing guards trouble initiating the offense. On several occasions he pressured the ball all the way up the floor.
It was time for the first big decision of his high school career. There had been rumors since the spring of that year he would be making the move from Fenwick. Prep schools and city powers were rumored. He told us off the record during the summer it would be Whitney Young, but the decision didn’t come officially until just a couple days before CPS schools were to open. Steward would indeed be transferring to a loaded Dolphins squad! No problem at all adjusting to his new running mates as he went off in his debut at Chicago Elite Classic.
Steward is getting pretty comfortable with his new team. He was phenomenal early in their game connecting on a quartet of three balls in the first quarter alone. Smooth shooting stroke both spotting up and off the bounce. He works well in pick and roll situations making sound decisions reading the defense either taking it to the rim or finding teammates. Got to the foul line at a high rate where he went 7-8 from the free throw line. On the night he had 25 points (7-14 FG), 8 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Continued his dominant season as a junior with a monster performance for southern Illinois fans at the O’Fallon Shootout!
Steward played like the high-major player that he is on Saturday at the O’Fallon Shootout. The ultra-smooth combo guard is excellent at manipulating ball screens and setting his opponents up off the bounce to get what he wants out of each situation. Lived in the lane all night where he finishes with an array of acrobatic layups including up and unders along with and-1s through traffic. So fast with the ball in the open floor just flying down the floor! Got on the offensive glass for a few second chance points. He was very impressive defensively using his length to get steals and alter shots. Combination of quickness and length are going to allow him to be a plus defender. He had 23 points (11-22 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals.
His recruitment was starting to take a more serious look at this same time. He told PHI at the event the schools making him the biggest priority were “Louisville. Texas for sure. Illinois, DePaul, Northwestern, and Virginia.” Duke and Michigan State were monitoring him.
During the spring of his senior year there was a pretty clear group of schools starting to look like serious contenders for his commitment with Louisville, Texas, and Illinois being toward the top of the list. In June he took visits to all three of them. His recruitment would go to another level with three days at the famed Nike Peach Jam that July. Steward’s Meanstreets squad would only go 1-4, but he did more than anyone could ask including a defining performance against AOT and their star guard Sharife Cooper.
The story of the night was DJ StewardDJSteward6'2" | PGWhitney Young | 2020State#22NationIL. He made a very strong case for the #1 spot in the 2020 rankings with his play. The Whitney Young point guard is a silky smooth scoring point guard that slithers through the defense. He got to the hoop over and over where he converted acrobatic layups with excellent body control in the lane. Shot it pretty well from three going 3-9 from down town. Defensively he used his length to get in passing lanes and on one occasion took it the other way for a slam. Can even block shots of opposing guards. Was very impressed with how well he rebounded on both ends of the floor. Final stat line was 31 points (11-25 FG), 12 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Because of his play at the event he earned offers from the blue blood rivals on tobacco road Duke and North Carolina. In the matter of a few days his entire recruitment had changed! On Duke he said, “Coach K text me early in the morning and asked if I had any time to talk. I responded yes and he called right away. He told me he loved how I played and competed all week and how I could score the ball so well. When he told me he was offering me I was super excited and pumped. It was a crazy feeling.” He also talked about the UNC offer. “I talked to an assistant coach a couple days ago and he told me that Coach Williams was going to call me sometime soon. Coach Williams said he was very impressed with how I could score the ball with the ball in my hands. I love how they also play up tempo and they have scored the most points in the NCAA. Coach Williams is another great coach!”
Game on in his recruitment! He narrowed his list officially to Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, DePaul, and Iowa State. He started off with a return trip to Austin to see the Texas Longhorns. Despite blue blood offers most thought Texas was still in good shape. He followed that up with a trip to Duke on the weekend of September 14. It was a wrap as Steward announced his commitment to the Blue Devils on September 18. After signing with the ACC power in November it was time to focus on his senior campaign. He had regained the top spot in the PHI Rankings from Miller, but now would have to face him on opening night. His team came up just short against Morgan Park despite a big game from the Duke bound guard
Steward was phenomenal in the first half. He recorded 14 of his game high 20 points in the opening half before getting a bloody lip on a collision with Marcus WatsonMarcusWatson5'11" | PGMorgan Park | 2020State#131NationIL. Known for his perimeter shooting it was more his ability to score in the paint in this one. Several slick drives with smooth ball handling getting to the cup. Scored off drives and in transition all night long. Did shake his man before drilling a pull up jump shot on one occasion. Duke is getting a good one!
He had perhaps the most impressive outing of this season at the Highland Shootout when he went head to head with his future rival in North Carolina commit Caleb Love and St. Louis power CBC!
Epic performance for the Duke commit in Steward’s battle with his future ACC rival. High level shot making from all around the floor throughout the night for Steward. Hit several deep feathery three point shots. Moves well without the ball to get open and transfers catch to shot easily. Then took it to the rack on slippery drives where he finished extremely well at the cup not missing a single shot inside the paint all night. That included the biggest one of the night to take the lead and tie the Highland Shootout scoring record. Steward had 40 points (14-20 FG) and 3 dimes in Whitney Young’s victory.
The Whitney Young guard had his MJ “Flu Game” at the O’Fallon Shootout. The newly minted McDonalds All-American and Jordan Brand Classic All-American was the cover boy of the program and the star everyone wanted to see. When we saw him earlier in the day during their shoot around he said he was under the weather. If you didn’t know that you couldn’t have told it by his game that night.
The top ranked senior in the state of Illinois and Duke commit DJ StewardDJSteward6'2" | PGWhitney Young | 2020State#22NationIL was a little under the weather, but that didn’t stop him from bringing another monster performance to the metro east. He opened things up with a scoring barrage including a corner three. The combo guard is one of the premier shooters nationally. Throughout the night he got points from all three levels on runners, mid-range jumpers, along with threes. Slick ball handler that gets to the rim with ease. He had a poster dunk that had the crowd going crazy. Despite all of this I thought this might have been the best we have ever seen Steward pass the rock. He only had four assists, but should have had double digits. Outlet passes, quick dishes with his off hand, and crisp passes to his shooters. Very impressive. His final line was 26 points (9-18 FG), 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Another aspect of that night at O’Fallon I will never forget is it was Duke vs UNC while his game was going on. Steward was following the game as UNC looked like they were going to win as he took the court and the clock was ticking down. I was the one that informed him during warm ups that the Blue Devils had pushed it to OT and then when I saw him on the court later he wanted to know the outcome. He had a big smile when he heard his future school completed the comeback.
If you would have told us before the season that it would be Simeon vs Whitney Young in the final game of the season we would have taken that for a 4A state championship and believed it was definitely possible. Well the last game of the high school season we saw was these two powers in the sectional semis at Lyons. The season would be cancelled the next day because of what was going on in our country. Steward left the exclamation point on his career that night!
Big time players step up in big time games. DJ StewardDJSteward6'2" | PGWhitney Young | 2020State#22NationIL did that! The Duke commit completely took over the game in the third quarter. The silky smooth 6’3” combo guard had it all working especially his lethal pull up game from beyond the three point arc. Understands how to manipulate ball screens and get shots up behind them. NBA range on his shot. Hit three in a row then got a steal and transition layup for a bucket. Another area I thought he made a major impact was his rebounding. Consistently high pointed boards in traffic. Steward had 23 points.
Throughout his entire career with Fenwick, Whitney Young, Meanstreets, Nike Elite 100, and other various camps we saw him he brought it every single time he hit the floor. Another aspect that always stood out about Steward was he always did it with a smile on his face. He has the type of star personality others gravitate toward. We wish him all the best in his future at Duke and the NBA beyond that!
Steward joins past PHI Player of the Year Winners:
2016 – Charlie Moore (Morgan Park)
2017 – Mark Smith (Edwardsville)
2018 – Talen Horton-Tucker (Simeon)
2019 – EJ Liddell (Belleville West)