Lance Stephenson has had a very up and down career. From being the all time leader in points scored in New York state high school basketball, to being slighted of a scholarship to Kansas University basketball right from out under him, to being the 40th pick in the NBA draft in 2010, Lance has experienced the highs and lows of basketball.
Lance started out his basketball career at Lincoln high school in Brooklyn, New York. After growing up in the rough community of Mermaid Ave. housing project complex, his father, Lance Sr., did his best to get him out as soon as he could. Lance broke out into the limelight after challenging O.J. Mayo to a game of one on one at the ABCD camp in New Jersey. After controversy over his high school choices, he finally settled on Lincoln high school. He was named New York State Mr. Basketball after his senior year, when he averaged 28.9 points, 10 rebounds and 3.9 assists for Lincoln. Following his senior year, Lance participated in the McDonalds All American Game, playing on the same team as DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors among others.Ultimately he lost in the McDonalds All American Game, but his college signing stock did not falter.Despite being cut from the USA under 18 team due to chemistry issues, he had many options for college ball. He narrowed his college choices down to three schools.
Those three schools represented three huge different communities and opportunities for Lance. Kansas offered Lance the opportunity to play in the big lights of college basketball alongside the nations other top recruits. St Johns offered the chance to stay in New York, where he was already a huge star. Maryland offered the chance for sponsorship from the highly rumored Under Armour brand. When Lance took a trip to visit Maryland’s campus, he also took a bit of a detour to the Under Armour company in Baltimore.
This provided Lance with some great options for where to take his talents to. After teasing the media with dates for announcements all spring and early summer, June brought on a misfortune for the young Mr. Stephenson.
A fellow top recruit, Xavier Henry, rescinded his commitment to Memphis in June. After John Calipari bolted for Kentucky, Memphis’s program started to look a bit dull. Henry noticed this, and took his scholarship opportunities to Kansas. Henry’s change to Kansas maxed out their scholarship limits at 13, resulting in Lance losing his opportunity to play. Kansas was long considered a favorite to land Lance, and Stephenson found himself stuck between the slowly less exciting options of Maryland and St. Johns.
In the end, Lance found himself signing with the Cincinatti Bearcats on a financial agreement deal. With controversy of a documentary that was based on himself, Lance found trouble with the NCAA shortly after signing with the Bearcats. Eventually, Stephenson was cleared to play, and did not miss a game.
Stephenson found success on the 19 win, 16 loss Bearcats, averaging 12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Despite missing the tournament, Stephenson was named the Big East freshman of the year. His Bearcats lasted until the second round of the NIT in New York.
Riding the momentum of being named Big East Freshman of the year, Stephenson decided to put his name in the mix and declare for the 2010 NBA draft that June. His draft stock was questionable due to his off the court issues ( sexual assault charge in high school) and possible attitude issues. NBAdraft.net rated him as a 91/100 prospect, and their big board had him at 33 but going 40 in the mock draft. That mock draft ended up correct, and Lance Stephenson’s professional career was birthed in Indiana as the 4oth pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
Lance didn’t see his first NBA minutes until February 27th, 2011, more than halfway through the NBA season. His box score of 4 minutes, 2 points, 2 assists, and a rebound was telling of his swiss-army like capabilities to come in his NBA future. Lance averaged 3.1 points in 9.6 minutes per game in 12 games played for the Pacers his rookie season, scoring a measly 37 points and not making a single three point shot the entire season.
Things improved slightly for Lance his sophomore year in the association, playing in 42 games and getting his first career start on April 25th, 2012 in a loss to the Chicago Bulls. In that start, he went on to score 22 points, then a career high.
In the playoffs of his sophomore season, Lance made headlines in the Pacers series with the Miami Heat. Mocking LeBron James with a choke sign, Lance got some bad press. This was a bit uncalled for by Stephenson, who had not played a single minute in the playoffs up to that point. Stephenson ended up apologizing, and the storm cleared out from above him.
Lance’s NBA career really picked up when he started 72 of 78 games in the 2012-2013 NBA season for Indiana. His averages upped to 8.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, and 1 SPG. He finally found his shooting stroke, knocking in 62 three pointers on 33% shooting and scoring a total of 687 points. His minutes per game increased to nearly 30 a night as he found favor from the Indiana coaching staff. He also showed up in Indiana’s deep postseason run, averaging 9.4 points and 7.6 rebounds in 35 minutes per night in 19 playoff games. Lance turned some heads that season, but nobody could have expected the absolute explosion of a season Lance is having in the 2013-2014 NBA season.
Starting 78 games out of just as many played, Lance is now a key part of the Pacers gritty rotation. His averages have bumped to a stellar 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 4.8 APG. He leads the league in triple doubles with 5 of them. He is hitting 49% of his shots in 35 minutes per game. Often overshadowed by the fan favorite story of young Pacers star Paul George, Stephenson has been the other driving force in the Pacers trek to claim the top spot in the East and take down the Giant of the conference, back to back champion Miami Heat. Stephenson is a box score murderer, recently posting his fifth triple double against the Western conference juggernaut in the Oklahoma City Thunder with 17 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Indiana has now clinched the top spot out East and secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs, much thanks to Stephenson.
With the playoffs fast approaching and the Pacers picking up the pieces of their late season collapse, they need Stephenson more than ever. This firecracker of a player brings an energy to the court that few teams possess. Much like a young Dwyane Wade, Stephenson has shown the ability to score from anywhere in a halfcourt offense. Also a weapon in transition, Stephenson has become a nightmare to guard.
If the Pacers want a chance to advance past the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals (or even reach them) they need to understand that Stephenson is the key.
Also on the Pacers GM, Kevin Pritchard’s, mind is that of re-signing Lance Stephenson. No matter what happens this postseason, Indiana knows that the current core they have is the one they want to keep for the foreseeable future. Retaining Stephenson is a huge part of keeping the core intact. Stephenson is sure to command significant money this offseason and, as an unrestricted free agent in a weak free agency class, chances are he does. While the Pacers brought in Evan Turner in a deadline deal for a half-season tryout of a replacement job if they cannot retain Stephenson, their main goal consists of keeping Stephenson on the team.
Nearly all the money they have spare this offseason will probably be used to throw at Stephenson, trying to keep him away from ludicrous offers sure to be there from teams like Milwaukee and Philadelphia, teams that want new, bright young stars to build around and have the cap space and draft position to bring them in. Shielding Lance from those offers will be tough, but Lance must realize one thing. Sure, the money that he will get offered from those bottom-feeder teams will be attractive ( Stephenson is only making 930k this season, per www.spotrac.com), those teams never gave Lance something that Indiana did.
That thing is the chance to thrive. Who really thinks that a rookie who averages 9 minutes a game and only plays in 12 games that season is going to be a star in this league? Indiana provided Lance with an opportunity for success, and Lance grabbed it. Often underrated in the sports world is a little thing called loyalty. While money can buy you nice cars and fancy houses, loyalty is something deeper than that. Just look at Dwayne Wade in Miami. Wade could have bolted for the bright lights and basketball royalty of Chicago in the summer of 2010. But instead, he recruited two big free agents by the names of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to come to the city that gave him his chance for success. Just look at him now, a three time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer. Stephenson has that opportunity now, to stay in Indiana and grow the franchise and start a dynasty, headlined by the names of Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and, if he stays, himself.
The story of Lance Stephenson has many ups and downs, curves, and bumps. His path to NBA stardom has not been an easy one, nor has it been squeaky clean. But one thing it has been is inspiring. Lance’s story of benchwarmer to rim rocker and leader has been a model one of the NBA dream and what can truly happen when you put hard work and dedication into what you love.
I hope you enjoyed my story on Lance Stephenson. Please leave any responses you have in the comment section below and I will respond promptly.
Stats via http://espn.go.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/4244/lance-stephenson unless otherwise stated
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