Lance Stephenson, one year removed from winning a fourth straight PSAL title at Lincoln, is headed to the NBA.
The 6-5 guard just finished his freshman season at Cincinnati and had said earlier he would return for his sophomore year, but he announced this morning he was leaving the school.
“I have decided to withdraw from the University of Cincinnati and enter my name into this year’s NBA Draft,” Stephenson said in a statement. “After carefully reviewing my options, it is now clear to me that the need to emotionally and financially support my family, especially my young daughter, along with my long-standing and burning passion to play in the NBA, outweighs my desire to return to the University of Cincinnati.
“I want to thank the administration, the athletic department and the entire coaching staff, especially [head coach] Mick Cronin and [assistant] Tony Stubblefield… for their support and guidance over the course of this past year. It was and always will be a privilege to be a Bearcat.”
Stephenson hardly dominated in his lone season at Cincinnati, where he wound up after his initial hope of going to Kansas fell through. He averaged 12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Bearcats, who lost in the second round of the NIT to eventual champion Dayton.
The four-time PSAL champ was named Big East Rookie of the Year.
“He proved some things this season,” one NBA scout said. “He played within the framework of the team better than before. But he still has a lot of holes in his game.”
Stephenson’s high school coach, Tiny Morton, could only say, “Wow” when told the news.
Longtime high school basketball expert Tom Konchalski, who has seen Stephenson play since junior high, was ambivalent.
“Obviously, I feel he’d be much better prepared if he went back for another year,” Konchalski said. “To take care of his family is a very admirable sentiment, but when he initially said he’d go back, I thought that was a landmark statement on his part of increased maturity and understanding of the facts.”
It’s certainly no guarantee he will join another former Railsplitter, Sebastian Telfair, as an NBA lottery pick, as Telfair was when he went straight to the pros out of Lincoln in 2004.
“At times it looked like he was more patient this year and willing to be a part of the puzzle rather than the entire puzzle,” Konchalski said of Stephenson. “I hope it works out. He became too easy a target after everyone jumped off the bandwagon when they realized he wasn’t going to be the next LeBron [James]. I’m not confident this will work out, but he has great will and that’s his strongest asset, even more than his ability to score.”