Home » Basketball: Stevenson’s Rocco Pagliocca learned from pros

Basketball: Stevenson’s Rocco Pagliocca learned from pros

Basketball is a labor of love for Stevenson’s Rocco Pagliocca.

The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard can’t remember a day when he didn’t devote at least some time to the sport. Much of that has to do with his father, Jeff, who was named the general manager of the Chicago Sky in October. Jeff Pagliocca has trained NBA and WNBA players for years at his Evolution Athletics in Deerfield.

“I would pick him up from preschool, and we’d go work out,” Jeff Pagliocca said. “He took a liking to the game at a young age. He was in a lot of NBA locker rooms and arenas at a very early age, so it’s just what he was used to.

“But on top of that, it was something he wanted to do.”

And Rocco Pagliocca always wanted to get better, making his behind-the-scenes access to high-level athletes all the more meaningful.

“I wanted to be just like them,” he said. “It showed me close-up the amount of passion they have and how hard they work to play at that high of a level.”

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Rocco Pagliocca, who already has an offer from Eastern Illinois, is playing at a high level in his first season as a starter for Stevenson (3-1).

“It’s definitely been a big step up this year,” he said. “It’s easier to play when you’re comfortable and confident, and my teammates have really helped. Last year, I saw things from a different perspective, and there are things that I saw that I’m using now.”

Will Benson, who succeeded Pat Ambrose as Stevenson’s coach, said he’s encouraged by Rocco Pagliocca’s progress.

“He’s gotten better every game, and that’s certainly a good sign,” Benson said.

The most obvious way Rocco Pagliocca distinguishes himself is by scoring. He has a smooth stroke from the perimeter that also flows seamlessly into midrange jumpers and floaters in the lane.

He hit three 3-pointers in Stevenson’s season-opening win against Hersey on Nov. 20, poured in nine points in the first quarter of a loss to Glenbrook South on Friday and scored a team-high 15 points in a win against York on Saturday.

Rocco Pagliocca also dished out seven assists against Hersey, playing a complementary ballhandling role alongside junior point guard Aidan Bardic.

“I’m pretty comfortable in that position, and sometimes we switch off,” Rocco Pagliocca said. “It’s cool that we get to play together. When I get an angle to find my teammates open for a shot, that next play might open something up for myself.”

It’s worth noting that his greatest impact against York came on the defensive end. He held AJ Levine to 13 points, well below the Penn recruit’s norm.

“To be successful on the level I want to ultimately be successful at, you have to be really good at both ends,” Rocco Pagliocca said. “Offense is good, but on defense, there has to be a fight in you. I want people to fear playing against me.”

Stevenson’s Rocco Pagliocca (5) looks to get past York’s Ryan Pechous during a game in the Ed Molitor Thanksgiving Classic in Palatine on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.

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That’s one of the many things he learned by being around his father and professional players.

“He got to know a lot of those guys very well, so it was another reason for him to stay hungry and motivated,” Jeff Pagliocca said.

Among those clients was Los Angeles Lakers forward Max Christie, a former Rolling Meadows star. According to Christie, Rocco Pagliocca caught their eye too.

“I remember multiple days when I’d meet with Jeff in high school, and you saw that Rocco was super poised and confident in his skills,” Christie said. “You could definitely see that he would blossom into a good player.”

Years later, Christie has advice for Rocco Pagliocca.

“You’re not going to get it all done in one step,” Christie said. “It’s important to not be outcome-based and enjoy the ups and downs of the journey.”

Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.