Erik Stevenson hears the noise. He hears the “overrated” chants, and he recognizes his position as a polarizing basketball player opposing crowds love to hate.
The Timberline High School star, who is headed to Wichita State after graduation this spring, feeds off of all of it.
Before each game, in visualization exercises, he pictures defenders in his head during warmups, and when he drains a long 3-pointer, or dunks over the top of them, he talks back.
That transfers into gameplay, too.
“I feed off of the energy of talking, and the smack,” Stevenson said. “I get myself going with that.”
He uses all of it as fuel, and it all contributes to this edge he says he’s had since he first started playing competitive sports.
“It’s a feeling that nobody can stop me,” Stevenson said. “At the end of the day, if we’re in between those lines, I don’t care who you are. I’m going to go at you on both ends of the floor.
“That’s how I got to where I am today. You have to have that dog mindset, that kill mode on the court, as people say.”
Stevenson, who is The Olympian’s 2018 All-Area player of the year and a three-time selection, is as tough as he is talented.
It has shown throughout his high school career, and is why he is one of the top recruits in Washington in his class.
Listed as a three-star shooting guard by most recruiting sites, Stevenson had Division I offers from 15 schools before he signed with the Shockers — a program that is projected to play in the NCAA tournament for the seventh consecutive season.
He is part of Gregg Marshall’s most heralded recruiting class, according to analysts, and projected to play as a true freshman.
Stevenson showed glimpses of how dominant can be this season — including once with Marshall in the audience.
He scored a game-high 28 points against Capital in December, and threw down a vicious dunk over a defender just before time expired. He then turned, stone-faced, to the crowd, displaying just how ruthless he is on the court.
“He can be the face of a program at the next level, he has that in him,” Timberline coach Allen Thomas said. “He’s willing to learn, he’s willing to do whatever it takes.”
Stevenson’s senior season averages — 24.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.7 blocks per game — speak to his ability on the court, but his competitive edge is widely considered his most substantial quality.
“If he didn’t have it, he wouldn’t be as good,” Thomas said. “He has a little bit of nasty to him, and I’m OK with it. Nice guys don’t finish first in this game.
“If you want it, you go out and take it, and he’s always taken what he wanted.”
Stevenson’s brash attitude can be a gift and a curse, Thomas says. During the four games Timberline played in the Class 3A tournament at the Tacoma Dome, it was certainly the former.
“Today, it was a gift,” Thomas said following Timberline’s opening-round win over Seattle Prep. “I hope it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Stevenson erupted for a season-high 43 points that game. Two days later, in a win over Wilson, he smashed five modern tournament records — including two set by future NBA lottery pick Michael Porter Jr.
Stevenson finished the tournament with six modern records for total points (118), field goals made (43), field goals attempted (88), 3-point field goals made (13), 3-point field goals attempted (36) and steals (15).
He paced the Blazers to a fourth-place finish in an overtime win over Kelso the final day — the program’s best finish since 1981 — and let out a triumphant yell as he raised the trophy at midcourt.
“He just has that intensity and toughness that you don’t see a lot at the high school level,” said Carl Howell, Stevenson’s AAU coach who by this spring will have sent 27 players to Division I programs.
“You see the really good college players with it. … He’s just ornery. He wants to win, and he’ll do what it takes to win.”
Stevenson says that savage attitude has always been inside, and he has always hated losing.
“Nobody has the edge that I have, because I needed that edge to get where I am,” he said.
“I wasn’t the most athletic sixth-grader in the country. I didn’t grow up in Seattle playing against other kids like that.”
Stevenson points to an AAU tournament in sixth grade as when his competitive edge started developing into what it is today.
His team was playing at a tournament in Las Vegas, and had a late lead. He was guarding the player that made the game-winning shot.
“It’s embarrassing when you get the game-winner hit on you,” Stevenson said. “You see it on film, everyone is talking about it.
“Ever since then, I didn’t want that feeling. Ever since then, I was like, ‘I’m not going to get busted up like that anymore.’ ”
For much of junior high and high school, Stevenson elevated his game by working out with and scrimmaging against older players.
He spent several years running at open gyms with players like Curtis’ Isaiah Thomas (Washington, Los Angeles Lakers), and David Crisp (Washington) and Ahmaad Rorie (Montana), who won a state title with Clover Park in 2011.
“I could see he was going to be really good from when we first started to play with each other,” Rorie said. “He always had a chip on his shoulder, and would never back down, no matter who he was playing against.
“To this day, he is fiery and has that competitive edge. To see a guy develop that way is great. You don’t see that in a lot of players.”
Stevenson has played on the Under Armour Association circuit the past two summers with Washington Supreme. Howell said he had some of his best games against some of the country’s top recruits.
“I think it just motivates him,” Howell said. “I think that’s why he’ll be successful in college. Some guys shy away from that. Some guys raise the level of their play.”
Stevenson raises his level of play in those situations, Howell said.
“He kind of reminds me of Kobe Bryant,” said Wilson’s Emmitt Matthews Jr., a UConn signee who played AAU ball with Stevenson, and will face him in American Athletic Conference play.
“He hates to lose, and he’s so relentless. When you play the way he plays, it feeds off onto a lot of players.”
Stevenson’s electric attitude, and his ability to light up a box score, are a big reason why Timberline advanced to the state playoffs each of his four seasons.
“He’s flying in to block shots out of nowhere, and he’s shooting deep 3’s from almost half court,” Matthews said. “He’s just an all-around dog.”
Stevenson never missed a high school game, appearing in 106 consecutive outings. His name is in Timberline’s record books for scoring in a single game (45 points), season (717) and career (1,861).
His career mark is also a modern-era record in Thurston County.
North Thurston coach Tim Brown joked he’s happy Stevenson is graduating, so the Rams don’t have to play against him anymore.
Brown, who has watched him from the opposing bench for four seasons, said it has been clear since Stevenson was a freshman that he would be an elite athlete.
But, Brown said his stock as a Division I player increased because of his mindset.
“The sheer intensity he brings to the game is what sets him apart, what made him into the player he is,” Brown said.
Said Rorie: “He’s skilled and can play the game, but I think his toughness does make him better. If he’s mentally tough on the court, not a lot of people can stop him.”
Stevenson would have been a Division I recruit without his cold-blooded approach on the court, Howell said, but it makes a difference.
“He’s really talented, so he would garner a lot of interest, but I think that puts him over the edge,” Howell said.
“It’s the same thing that makes Grayson Allen so good at Duke. It’s the same thing that made Ron Baker so good at Wichita State. You have to have that.”
Baker is the player Marshall and his staff often compare Stevenson to. At one point a relatively unknown recruit from Kansas, Baker turned into a premier shooter for the Shockers, and helped them reach the Final Four in 2013.
He now plays for the New York Knicks.
Stevenson said he has been told by Wichita State’s staff that he is further developed than Baker was coming out of high school.
“They said he left as a pro, which sat in my head,” Stevenson said. “So, he came in not as good as me, but left better than me.
“I have to come in and work as hard as he did, and even more, to become an NBA draft pick.”
Rorie said Stevenson has always played well against big-time players, mostly because he always competes and works hard.
“What motivates me to play basketball is seeing success on the court, and seeing where it can take me,” Stevenson said. “It’s going to take me to the next level pretty soon.
“It could take me to the NBA or overseas to play professionally, which is my goal.”