By Jon Mahoney, Special to SI.com, SchoolSports.com
Rebounding is an art form practiced by many players but perfected by only a select few. When it comes to snaring boards on the high school level, however, Harvard-Westlake senior Alex Stepheson is a modern-day Picasso.
Stepheson (pronounced steve-a-son), a 6-foot-10, 230-pound power forward/center, has been perfecting his rebounding skills since he was 4, when his father, Arthur, showed him what it took to be a master at cleaning the glass.
At 6-4, Arthur doesn't have the size of your prototypical rebounding stud, but his work ethic and desire more than made up for that. Arthur, who played at Westmont College and overseas and is considered a local playground legend, taught Alex the hard work that's necessary to excel in the paint.
"My dad always stressed rebounding when I was little," says Alex, who's rated the nation's No. 34 hoop recruit in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com and is headed for the University of North Carolina next year. "He used to take me outside and teach me some box-out drills. He never took it easy on me because I was little. It made me stronger.
"He's always been telling me that you have to be the hardest worker and you have to want it more than anyone. That's what I took the most from him."
Harvard-Westlake head coach Greg Hilliard, who just finished his 21st year at the helm of the Wolverines, knew Stepheson would rule the boards back when the big man was just a freshman. Harvard-Westlake was in the Southern Section playoffs and Hilliard decided to call up Stepheson to the varsity after he'd led the freshman team to a league title.
While some might expect a freshman to just watch and learn during the postseason, Stepheson actually got some good run on a team that won the Southern Section Division IIIA title and advanced to the Division III state finals, where the Wolverines lost to Sacramento Foothill.
"He was very, very skinny," says Hilliard. "But he was a post player who could use his athleticism to get rebounds and block shots. He'd have two or three minutes in short spurts, and that's when we started to realize he'd be special on the glass."
Stepheson built on that solid postseason performance to have strong sophomore and junior campaigns. He averaged 11 points, 12 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game as a sophomore and improved to 16.9 points, 13 rebounds and 3.2 blocks during his junior season. He led the Wolverines to Southern Section titles both years.
But neither of those two seasons compare to the incredible jump Stepheson made this year, when he put up the type of numbers normally reserved for NBA Live 06 if the settings were on easy and you were using Amare Stoudemire.