One of the most intriguing plot lines of this off-season has been Lance Stephenson's recruitment. If you read this blog, you should know who Lance Stephenson is already - a consensus top 10 recruit that has led Lincoln High School to four straight NYC PSAL titles, is the all-time leading scorer in the state of New York, and is considered by some to be the most talented player to ever come out of Coney Island. He's been on the national radar since he went toe-to-toe with OJ Mayo as a rising freshman in high school.
But no colleges seem to want him, which is incredible considering Renardo Sidney, who has just as much baggage and controversy surrounding his high school days, landed on his feet (for now) at Mississippi State.
and is the all-time leading scorer in New York.
(photo credit: SLAM)
It is understandable, however. This morning, the New York Daily News had an article discussing the issues surrounding Stephenson, of which there are many. He is not the easiest player to coach (Stephenson was left off last summer's national team because the coaching staff was worried about his ability to be a team player).
That's just the tip of the iceberg.
- Stephenson was filmed in an internet TV show BornReady.tv that was eventually aired on MTV2, which has led to questions regarding his status as an amateur.
- Stephenson and a Lincoln teammate are currently facing sexual assault charges stemming from an incident in October.
- On his recruiting trip to Maryland, Stephenson took a tour of the Under Armour facility, which was led by a Maryland booster and can be considered a recruiting violation.
- Lance Stephenson Sr. has proven to be very difficult to deal with during the recruiting process of Junior.
- There are some serious doubts as to whether Stephenson is even going to be cleared academically by the NCAA.
What does all this mean? Lance Stephenson has lost almost all of his suitors. Maryland, Florida, Arizona, Kansas, even St, John's, all rumored to be recruiting Stephenson heavily, have pulled out of the chase. Memphis is still in the hunt, but rumors have started to surface that the Tigers are pursuing former USC commit Derrick Williams with their last open scholarship.
There are still a few mid-major suitors (Florida International and Isiah Thomas comes to mind), but it is looking more and more likely that Stephenson is going to have to head to Europe for a season.
There are two ways to look at this. First of all, this could actually be a good thing for Stephenson as a player. I have not seen Stephenson play on anything more than a highlight tape (which is not a good way to scout a player), but by all accounts he is a fantastic scorer, and some reports have said he would be the best offensive player in college basketball next season. If he does end up in college, especially if it is a place like Florida International, odds are that Stephenson will dominate. For a kid with attitude and cockiness issues, that is the last thing in the world you want to have happen.
But let's say Stephenson goes to Europe. He won't be playing against over-matched 19 and 20 year olds. Rather, he will be going up against professionals, grown men that have NBA aspirations and would love nothing more than to plant an elbow square on the chops of a cocky young buck like Stephenson. Putting 40 on Jamal Crawford in the Rucker League is much different than trying to learn a system, play within a system, and put up points against a set defense. Stephenson could use a heaping helping of humility, and as Brandon Jennings proved this past season, heading overseas as a 19 year old is a quick way to get humbled.
(photo credit: gunninmovie.com)
There is another way to look at this. Let's say Stephenson ends up being forced to spend the year abroad because no school will take on his risk (the same goes for Sidney if he is ruled ineligible). Would this not be a great cautionary tale, especially if the year out of the spotlight has negative consequences for either player's draft stock in 2010?
Think about it. If Stephenson dominates the college game for a year, his face is all over Sportscenter every day and the public will be seeing him drop 25 or 30 a night. He will have a profile here, and fans will be calling for their team to pick him.
But if he goes to Europe, has a mediocre season as a reserve (a la Jennings), will NBA scouts still be fawning over him, especially in a draft class next year that looks to be loaded? Maybe, maybe not, but it is almost a guarantee that he will slide a bit in the draft as a result, costing himself a bunch of guaranteed money.
Worst case scenario, Stephenson (or Sidney) goes the way of Lenny Cooke (or Ousmane Cisse).
Who are they?
My point exactly.
Now I am going to preface this by saying the last thing I want is for this to sound like I'm rooting for a couple of 18 year olds to fail, because that is not at all true. But couldn't this be a good thing for the college game? If Stephenson is never heard from again, would he not be the perfect poster boy for the dangers of pushing the boundaries of amateurism as a high school standout?
Think about it like this. Right now, there really are no repercussions for guys like OJ Mayo or Derrick Rose, guys that break the rules (alledgedly) coming up and expect their schools and former teammates to pay the price for them.
Maybe a fall from grace by a "sure-fire" NBA star is what it will take to convince people that it is not a good idea to bend the rules of recruiting and amateurism during their high school years.
Maybe seeing two more of our most talented youngsters showcasing their skills abroad will help to change the one-and-done rule.
Or, maybe it will stay in our collective consciousness for a while before the general public moves on, and five years from now college basketball bloggers will be wary of a misguided young star becoming the next Lance Stephenson.