By Eric Prisbell
Just as the drama between the Maryland men's basketball coach and athletic department has quieted, the Terrapins have created more buzz with their latest recruiting target.
Excitement mounted among fans at Comcast Center last night as they awaited the arrival of Lance Stephenson, a high school senior from Lincoln High in Brooklyn, N.Y., who attended Maryland's game against Miami during his .official visit. Stephenson, who attends the same high school as Maryland signee James Padgett, is a talented guard who has had a star-crossed high school career.
If Stephenson ever wound up at Maryland, it could serve as a quick fix for a program that has struggled mightily on the national recruiting scene. But according to recruiting sources, the recruitment also reeks of desperation by a program likely destined to miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five seasons.
After spending the past week discussing the 2008 recruitments of two talented yet controversial players -- Gus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans -- Maryland Coach Gary Williams has now set his sights on another talented player with a checkered past.
There might not be a better-known high school player in the country this season than Stephenson, who has been in the national recruiting spotlight since middle school. He was viewed as the next great New York City guard.
The 6-foot-5 Stephenson has shined during the summer AAU circuit. My favorite memory of Stephenson was watching him play O.J. Mayo to a near-stalemate in 2005, even though Stephenson had yet to enter high school.
"O.J. was saying, 'You can't score,' " the always confident Stephenson said to me and a handful of reporters that day. "I'm saying, 'Listen, you are saying that to an eighth-grader.' "
But Stephenson's innocence soon faded, and he has experienced his share of missteps during a high school career in the national spotlight.
He was suspended last year for fighting with a teammate. In October, he was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl on school property. He was charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
It has long been speculated that Stephenson might follow the Brandon Jennings path: bypass college and play in Europe for a year before entering the 2010 NBA draft. But with Jennings struggling in Italy, Stephenson recently told the MSG Network that "I don't think it's a good decision to go to Europe. I just want to go to college and experience new things."
Stephenson now is reportedly considering St. John's, Memphis and, apparently, Maryland. In recent years, the Terrapins have not shied away from pursuing talented players with off-court issues. In addition to Evans and Gilchrist, there was also Terrence Jennings, who attended multiple high schools, and Herb Pope, who had a series of behavioral issues.
Stephenson is the next in the line. When told of Stephenson's visit to Maryland, one source intimately involved in the national recruiting scene said: "That is too funny. Out of left field."