Steenberge is raising game to new heights

Basketball: At 6-10, Kevin Steenberge has always had a presence on the court. Now, the River Hill junior's hard work is elevating his play and drawing interest from national basketball powers.

January 26, 2001|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Like any wise decision, it came down to faith.

When Kevin Steenberge finished his freshman year at River Hill, he found himself torn between sports. On one hand, he had played soccer since the age of 4, he loved the game, and he looked forward to playing goalkeeper someday for one of the best programs in the state.

But, on the other hand, he had size 17 feet, enormous hands, and at 6 feet 8, he could dunk with relative ease.

"I actually work over at St. Louis Church and I was talking to one of the priests about it one night," said Steenberge, who in the two years since has grown to 6-10. "He told me, `Well, you were blessed with a 6-10 body, not many people get that. I can't name one 6-10 soccer player, but I can name quite a few good basketball players that size.' That kind of swayed me."

Thus ended the career of one of the world's tallest high school soccer goalies. But the basketball seems to have turned out OK. Georgia Tech called a few days ago. USC sent him a few letters - around 80, if he had to guess how many. Dayton sent word that it is very interested. UCLA dropped a note to let him know it is watching closely.

"Kevin has really dedicated himself to basketball this year and you can see that in his game," said River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen. "I get calls every day from coaches from just about everywhere wanting to know more about him."

Considering that Steenberge is only a junior, there is still time for a number of other colleges to catch his ear, if they act now. He's not the best basketball player in the league, nor is he the most exciting. But he's well on his way.

"He played hard all summer against Division I kids and picked up some moves as well as gained a lot of confidence," Van Deusen said. "He's stronger, he can shoot the ball and he's developed into one of the better players in the league. We knew he had a lot of potential from the minute he entered our program."

There's no question Steenberge has already injected himself into the nightmares of opposing league coaches, if only as a result of his defensive skills. Coming off the bench last season as a sophomore, Steenberge admits he was noticed more often for his daunting height than his game. But this year, while River Hill has been stellar at times and struggled at others, he's become an impact player. Through 14 games, Steenberge has averaged 13.9 rebounds and 6.4 blocks, while scoring 13 points per contest. It would be a fair estimate so say he changes another 10 shots a game that he doesn't block.

"It's a lot different going into a game knowing the other team is going to be watching me," Steenberge said. "But I'm stronger physically and mentally."

Against Glenelg earlier this season, he recorded 4-year-old River Hill's first triple double, getting 13 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots, and he's held his own against the league's two top players, Long Reach's Josh Gross and Mount Hebron's Eric Tobak, most recently getting 21 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks against the Lightning.

His improved skills, and the flood of recruiting letters, are mainly the result of a summer spent sweating away the afternoons at big-time basketball camps, specifically the Eastern Invitational in Trenton, N.J., where 320 college coaches watched him play well enough to make the Top 20 underclassman all-star team.

"My dad told me after that, `You're going to start getting some serious looks now,' " Steenberge said. "Ever since then I've been getting a lot of mail."

Born in Wilmington, N.C., home to Michael Jordan, Steenberge moved around a bunch as a kid, but he never had trouble meeting people. At 5 years old, he was by far the tallest kid in his class, and it's been that way every since.

"Kids would come up to me and instead of introducing themselves, they'd ask, `Hey, how tall are you?' When I moved to New Jersey in sixth grade, they were pretty excited for their basketball team. In middle school, the biggest is kind of the coolest kid," he said.

Little has changed in high school. Steenberge, who is interested in entering politics someday, was elected president of the student government executive board at River Hill earlier this year.

"My dad was in the Air Force and my brother is in the Air Force now, so politics has always been tied in with our family," Steenberge said. "We were always talking about it around our house and it kind of caught my eye. I try to take a leadership role on our team and I think some of that comes from my background."

There is still much to be done. Steenberge would like to reach the point where he can dominate every night, his coordination meshing with his size to form the complete package. And along the journey, he hopes to keep things in perspective as well.

"It's overwhelming sometimes to come home and have 100 pieces of mail from colleges," he said. "But my parents have taught me to appreciate every letter I get and everything I've been blessed with. I get to spend the summers traveling the country with 12 great guys playing basketball. Not many people are that lucky."

Time will tell if he's destined for big things. He's not there yet, but he's well on his way.

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