David Becker / Special to the Home News
Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 | 2 a.m.
When D.J. Stennis was recently assigned to write a poem for his English class, deciding on a topic did not take long.
Stennis, a Palo Verde senior, has a one-track mind these days — playing point guard for the Panthers' basketball team.
The poem, entitled "Love of the Game," describes Stennis' passion for basketball.
"I've been playing basketball since I was 2 years old. I don't know anything else," Stennis said. "It's the most important thing to me besides God and family. Anytime I can express my love for basketball, whether it's writing, speaking or playing the game, I do it."
To Stennis' surprise, his poem was voted best in his class, earning him 50 extra credit points, he said.
Stennis has never had an easier time expressing his emotions for basketball than right now.
His Panthers have a 19-4 record, including 10-2 as of Feb. 9 in the Northwest Division. Stennis has averaged 10 points, 7.5 assists and four rebounds while running an offense for a team that nearly has six players average double figures in points.
"D.J. is a guy that is extremely unselfish in trying to get other guys in a position to score," Palo Verde coach Jermone Riley said. "He could come out and score 20 points if he wanted to, but he's always given of himself. Once your teammates get involved, they want to play harder for you because they expect you to get them the ball."
Stennis played for Durango the past two years. This fall, Stennis temporarily moved to Mississippi to live with his father, D.J. Stennis Sr., while his mother moved from a house to an apartment.
He didn't know when he would be back in Las Vegas — it might not have been until after his senior year.
Stennis debated whether or not to attend tryouts for his school's basketball team in Missouri, fearing eligibility issues if he returned to Southern Nevada.
But just two months after moving, Stennis returned. His mother's new apartment was in Palo Verde's zone.
Stennis was excited to be eligible for his senior year at Palo Verde.
"It'd be sad if I wasn't able to play my senior year and it wasn't my fault," he said.
It didn't take long for Stennis to be accepted by his new teammates. The Panthers quickly began counting on his experience. He is one of two senior starters.
"D.J. has been a good leader for us," said Moses Morgan, Palo Verde's leading scorer. "He's one of the reasons we're where we're at. His biggest strength is he knows how to get everybody involved in the game. If somebody is not getting in the flow, he gets them in the flow."
Stennis credited much of his success this season to Riley, who is in his first year coaching Palo Verde. Riley was one of the first people he told about winning best poem in his class.
"From school to family to basketball, everything has been going good now, so I can't complain," Stennis said. "I've hinted to coach I want to get him a (championship) ring and make his first year here as good as he's made mine so far."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].