The recruiting dream of every high school athlete is similar in its path. Every one wants to be a star on his/her high school team, be offered a multitude of college scholarships to great universities all over the country, and then go on to excel from day one at the next level.
And then there is the reality of many of those athletes' situation, which can differ dramatically from that aforementioned plan.
For Jairus Stevens, his athletic career hasn't unfolded perfectly, but it is becoming more appealing with each passing day. His signing a National Letter of Intent with the Fort Wayne men's basketball program earlier this week was just the latest positive step that the former Merrillville High School standout has taken on his journey.
“Jairus did not have the recruitment that he deserved,” Cheshire Academy boy's basketball coach Kevin Kehoe told The News-Sentinel of his player. “That is why he came to prep school.”
Following a productive career at Merrillville, in which he was the No. 1-ranked Class 4A Pirates' leading scorer as a senior, Stevens spent the past year at the Connecticut prep school growing – on and off of the court – under Kehoe's guidance, and it turned out to be a positive experience for both the player and the coach.
“He embraced the year,” Kehoe said. “A lot of kids don't embrace things. He embraced the year and got much better in time management and he got much better in study skills.
“Let's face it, a lot kids, they fight it. Jairus embraced it. Jairus didn't become a better kid, because he was a great kid coming in. But he became a better student. He became a more diligent worker.”
That work has paid off.
After playing an interior role for Merrillville, the 6-foot-5 Stevens moved to his more natural position of shooting guard for a 19-10 Cheshire team this season and thrived.
“I honestly think he always was,” Kehoe said of Stevens being a perimeter player, “but a lot of times, you are playing in a high school system and you are kind of a victim of what the school is. They kind of forced him, out of necessity, to play more of the (power forward) than anything else. We're able to play kids at their natural position.”
At Cheshire, Stevens averaged nearly 20 points per game and was named as the Fighting Cats' Offensive Player of the Year.
“The kid can finish as well as any kid that I have ever coached,” Kehoe said.
Stevens' ability wasn't limited to just the offensive end of the floor. Kehoe explained that he also had the length (he has a 6-foot-9 wingspan) and quickness to guard an array of opponents.
“Defensively,” Kehoe said, “he was very good. All high school kids have to learn how to play defense, but he is so long that he can guard guys in the paint, but he is also quick enough, and with his length, he can actually guard point guards (too).”
Stevens shined against the competition in one of the premier athletic conferences (New England Prep School Athletic Conference) in the entire country, but Kehoe said he was just as solid in every other aspect of his existence at Cheshire.
“It worked out for Jairus,” Kehoe said of his choice to attend Cheshire. “But more importantly, he made it work out for him. He is one of the top people to ever, ever wear a uniform at our school. The faculty loves him. The administration loves him. The kid is like the face of our school.”
Kehoe has recruited players from all over the country, but never before from Indiana. Stevens' teammates this past year came from Arizona to the South Sudan in Africa, and that cultural experience plays an integral part in the Academy's education process. The Cheshire student population consists of 35 percent from outside the United States.
“We're like the melting pot,” Kehoe laughed. “You might as well put the Statue of Liberty on our court.”
Kehoe said that diversity allows young people to learn about varying cultures, religions, and ethnicities, and no student-athlete took advantage of that more so than Stevens.
“He embraced the entire community as well as any kid that has ever come here,” Kehoe said.
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