Next chapter starts now for Stephenson
Welcome to the world of Lance Stephenson.
No other high school baller -- not even LeBron James -- has been subjected to a level of scrutiny from Day 1 of his freshman year like Stephenson. After making his name at the 2005 ABCD Camp as a rising ninth-grader by holding his own against fellow hoop prodigy O.J. Mayo, Stephenson was hailed as NYC's next "Great One." Originally ticketed for Bishop Loughlin, the Coney Island native switched at the last minute and headed instead for Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.).
It was a perfect fit. Hometown boy would make good and follow in the footsteps of former Lincoln-guards-turned-NBA-ballers Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair.
From the beginning, he outdid them both. Marbury had to wait until his senior year to win a PSAL city title. Telfair missed out on one as a freshman before winning three in a row. Stephenson wasn't going to wait. He turned Madison Square Garden into his playground, winning the city crown as a freshman. He repeated as a sophomore and went on to win the state Federation crown.
With his profile on the rise and nicknames like Born Ready and Sir Lance-a-Lot being tossed around, Stephenson's legend continued to grow the following summer when he became the youngest baller to compete in the Entertainer's Basketball Classic at Harlem's legendary Rucker Park. The championship game featured five NBA players, but Stephenson still copped MVP honors.
Junior year brought more of the same, with PSAL and state Federation championships. But this year, his final steps as a senior toward joining the pantheon of N.Y. prep legends like Lew Alcindor, Kenny Anderson, Marbury and Telfair were chaotic.
The six-week conclusion to his high school playing days featured excellence on the court and some drama off it -- a perfect microcosm of Stephenson's career.
Feb. 15: Lincoln vs. Jefferson, PSAL Brooklyn Title Game. Stephenson doesn't wait long to make history, breaking Telfair's state scoring record on the game's first basket. He finishes with 24 points, giving him 2,808 for his career. Lincoln wins the game, 81-61, for its fifth straight Brooklyn crown.
March 21: Lincoln vs. John F. Kennedy, PSAL City Title Game. Stephenson does what he always does under the bright lights of MSG -- he dominates. With 24 points and 10 rebounds, he leads the Railsplitters to an easy 78-56 win. Lincoln becomes the first team to win four consecutive PSAL crowns. Asked after the game by the Daily News to rank his school's latest superstar, Lincoln coach Tiny Morton says, "He's No. 1. He's definitely No. 1 right now."
March 28: Lincoln vs. Rice, State Federation Semifinals. Two more wins and the Railsplitters will finish on top of New York for the third year in a row. In their way is Rice, a fellow state powerhouse led by Miami-bound senior Durand Scott. In a stunning development, Rice routs Lincoln, 77-50, and goes on to win the state title. Stephenson scores only 12 points in defeat, a far cry from his usual performances in big games. But there's not much time to think about the loss. Stephenson is on his way to Miami for the McDonald's All-American Game.
March 30: Powerade JamFest at the McDonald's All-American Game. Stephenson arrives in Florida a day late after missing his plane, but he's there in time to participate in Monday night's 3-point contest. He doesn't win, but that's not the big story. Everyone is waiting for Tuesday morning, when Stephenson will announce his college choice at a media day press conference. Word has it Kansas is the favorite, leading St. John's and Maryland. At 1 p.m., the McDonald's PR department sends out an e-mail reminder to be on time for Stephenson's announcement, which will begin "at 11:45 a.m. sharp."
March 31: Decision Day? Overnight, at 12:05 a.m., the McDonald's PR group sends an e-mail informing the media that Stephenson has decided to delay his college announcement once again. (He was originally scheduled to announce following the PSAL title game.) When media day starts at 11:45, 46 of the 47 McDonald's players are on hand for questions. Stephenson is the lone absentee. At 12:25, he arrives with his parents and holds a small press conference. "My family and I want to wait it out," Stephenson says. "It's a tough decision, so I'm just going to take my time, have fun here at the McDonald's game and hopefully you can hear it later on in my high school career." Stephenson says the Jayhawks, Red Storm and Terrapins are still his top three schools and that playing professionally in Europe for a year does not interest him. Stephenson is watched closely by the McDonald's PR team while conducting a few brief interviews. Then it's time to play.
April 1: 32nd Annual McDonald's All-American Game. Things don't start well for Stephenson, who misses a few shots and turns the ball over. He shows signs of the immaturity that has dogged him at times during his career, barking at officials and teammates. But he gets things together and ends up making two of the biggest plays of the night, finding teammate Derrick Favors of South Atlanta (Atlanta, Ga.) twice in the final minute for dunks as the East defeats the West, 113-110. Favors, who has played with Stephenson a lot on the summer circuit, thinks the star is misunderstood by those who believe he's a bad teammate. "He's very competitive, and the only time he gets mad is when his team is losing because he wants to win so much," Favors says.
With that, Stephenson's illustrious high school career -- and a crazy six weeks -- was over. But his story is just beginning. The college years (or more likely, college year) will be the next chapter, and if it's anything like his high school days it'll be must-see TV.
Would you expect anything else in the world of Lance Stephenson?
Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.
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