Friday, September 25, 2015

Flashback Friday: When Lance Was King

JULY 28, 2009:

Several months ago, a friend brought to my attention some growing hearsay.

Cincinnati reached out to Lincoln High School phenom Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson.

I thought to myself...The chances of Stephenson landing there are about as likely as Ron Jeremy being warped in a dry spell in the mid-eighties...

No way. I thought it was the fabrication of a rumor.

Stephenson, an extraterrestrial athlete and superior 6-foot-6 scoring guard was pursued by handfuls of the nation's top-flight programs a year ago.

For a number of reasons, Stephenson was the last high-end recruit standing. He was left with only a few feasible options. His recruiting tailed off, his interest from high-end hoop powerhouses diminishing at a furious pace.

His image was punctured by the controversy-starved, microscopic mainstream media.

A few months and a few more rumors than a sewing circle later, my buddy's words proved prophetic.

The sea of hoop-heads are no longer aggressively speculating the Brooklyn-bred wunderkind's college options.

There are no longer whispers about Stephenson bolting for Europe, a move hype artists and bloggers swore would happen. This move, of course, would allow him to circumvent the NBA draft rules implemented by David Stern.

Stephenson's recruiting process was marred by controversy. It played out longer than anyone expected.

The growing list of rumors, the word around the blazing Coney Island beach all triggered a manifesto of hate on the young man-child following the righteous steps of Sebastian Telfair and Stephon Marbury.

Stephenson is laughing his way to the stacked Big East now, ducking the long arm of the NCAA clearinghouse in the process.

With the NCAA embracing Private Investigator mode--cracking down on high-majors such as UCONN, Memphis, and now the baller-barren USC--the circus may be headed to the Ohio River area before we know it.

On the other side of the coin, the flashy Stephenson could help revive an ailing program.

He has the potency to form a radiant 1-2 punch with 6-foot-1 shootist Deonta Vaughn (15.3 PPG, 4.7 APG), an All Big East selection whose displayed a right to bear arms from beyond the arc.

The Bearcats also feature a blossoming young forward in wide-bodied big Yancy Gates. Gates averaged 10.6 PPG last season as a high-efficiency option (48 percent FG) in the paint. Gates could also be a dependable beneficiary of Stephenson's high-low passes from the top of the key.

If the controversial Stephenson can sidestep the ever-growing NCAA investigation process ("he accepted a free $3 pretzel from a fan, a free gift, let's investigate his amateur status, wahh wahh), a Bearcat resurgence might be in the cards. It all adds considerable buzz in the new-look Big East, rife with the nation's top-shelf guards.

Another key newcomer for Cincy is Sean Kilpatrick, who spent a post-graduate season at Notre Dame Prep.

It was at White Plains High that Kilpatrick truly embraced the scoring beast within him. White Plains has churned out a number of high-level college players. There's Markus Austin, who played at Eastern Michigan after leading the Tigers to a 1999 New York State championship.

There's Devon Austin, a sweet-stroking guard who played at Manhattan. There's high-rising 6-foot guard Ra'Shad "Birdman" James, one of the northeast's most electrifying dunkers during his high school heyday. There's Dave Boykin, a cerebral point guard who starred at Bridgeport. There's Spencer Smith, football-basketball stud Spencer Ridenhour, and a handful of others.

At White Plains, Kilpatrick put the Tigers on the national map during an eyeball-to-eyeball battle with Taylor King (Duke/Villanova). He went off for 44 one game, cementing his status as a game-changing scorer. At Notre Dame Prep, "SK" shot less and passed more, clearing all academic issues in the process.