Thursday, June 24, 2010

No Place Like Home "Lance wants to stay home"

Written By: John Torenli
by John Torenli (,

Lance Stephenson admits that he’ll be happy whenever he’s selected and wherever he winds up in tonight’s much-anticipated NBA Draft.

But if the former Lincoln High School forward has his druthers, he’d love to begin his professional career where he established his reputation as one of the top amateur players in the nation: Madison Square Garden.

“I always wanted to play in the Garden,” said the four-time P.S.A.L. champion and all-time leading scorer in New York high school hoops history, after his afternoon workout with the hometown Knicks on Saturday. “I grew up playing in the Garden since high school. If the Knicks pick me, it would be a dream come true to play my home games here.”

Stephenson, who was scheduled to show off his skills for the New Jersey (soon-to-be-Brooklyn) Nets as well yesterday, hasn’t arrived at this momentous evening without considerable static.

Once tabbed a can’t-miss prospect who only needed a year of fine-tuning in the NCAA before rising to superstardom in the NBA, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Coney Island native has endured a rough ride, due mostly to his own indiscretions both on and off the court.

Stephenson spent his senior year at Lincoln fighting off a sexual abuse charge, which he eventually pleaded down to a disorderly conduct. There were rampant rumors that his eligibility would be in question at the college level due to alleged monies he received for an on-line reality show.

“Born Ready” also developed a reputation as a bit of a prima donna, getting into altercations with teammates and drawing the occasional suspension from coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, who groomed Sebastian Telfair for the NBA prior to Stephenson’s arrival.

But Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who enjoyed Stephenson’s services this past season, believes the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year is prepared to shake off his character issues and live up to his star status in the league where they pay for play.

“Lance is a very determined and hardworking young man and he knows that he has much to learn and must improve as a player,” Cronin said upon Stephenson’s announcement to enter the Draft back in April.

“Lance and his family are very aware of the path that lies ahead for him, and one thing that I have 100 percent confidence in is that Lance is willing to work as hard as he can to reach his potential.”

Ironically, Stephenson passed up a chance to play at St. John’s this winter, citing the need to get away from all the local attention as one of the primary factors in choosing Cincinnati.

But when pressed to explain that decision this past week, he once again expounded on his love for all things New York.

“I always grew up wanting to play for the Knicks,” the 19-year-old explained. “If they pick me, I’ll be very happy. So I’m just going to keep working to get better every day.”

The Nets, who have the third overall pick tonight, are keeping their first choice a mystery. Forward Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech, Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins, Syracuse swingman Wesley Johnson and Georgetown’s pivot-man Greg Monroe are all reportedly still in the mix.

Pending the outcome of picks 1 and 2, which will likely see John Wall of Kentucky go to Washington and Ohio State’s Evan Turner land in Philadelphia, the Nets won’t have an opportunity to seriously consider Stephenson until their second pick (27th overall in the first round).

New Jersey will also have a high second-rounder, 31st overall, and could see Stephenson as a work-in-progress that will draw strong local interest when the franchise lands in Downtown Brooklyn in 2012.

The Knicks own two second-round picks, 38th and 39th overall, but will doubtlessly wait to see how the first 37 picks shake out before seriously considering Stephenson.

Telfair, who grabbed three city crowns at Lincoln and set the state scoring standard before Stephenson erased his record, went 13th overall in the 2004 draft to Portland.

The 6-foot point guard, the smallest player ever chosen straight out of high school, has been a journeyman at best during his six NBA seasons, spending time with the Blazers, Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Stephenson projects at a higher level than Telfair entering this talent-rich draft, but isn’t likely to go before late in the first round or early in the second.

That lands him right in the crosshairs of the Knicks and Nets, both of whom could land a diamond in the rough with a high ceiling for improvement, and perhaps even more importantly, drawing power.

But for Stephenson, the dream of playing in his own backyard is supercedes by his desire to simply make an NBA team.

“It doesn’t matter where I get picked, as long as I get picked,” he said

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