Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Lance Stephenson

I have conducted a number of interviews in my lifetime, both of the interminably strange and the utterly unmemorable variety. I'm not sure where on a hypothetical graph I would place my interactions with a man named Lance Stephenson Sr.; when I spoke to him during a basketball game at Madison Square Garden several years ago, I was ostensibly there to talk to his son, Lance Jr., but Lance Jr.--who was then in the eighth grade and had already sparked a furious recruiting battle among the local high schools for his services--spent most of the game eating junk food and staring at girls. And I spent most of my time speaking to Lance Sr. about his son, and fielding, as well as I could, his own questions about the recruiting process and the media spotlight and how it all worked.

In fact, shortly after the story appeared in Newsday--it was supposed to be something of an exploration of the scouts' fascination with prodigies, and about the impact of the Coney Island lineage of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, but it turned into kind of a mess--Stephenson left a Catholic school called Bishop Loughlin and moved to Lincoln High, which was on Coney Island, near the project houses where he'd grown up. I have no idea what prompted this move, and I have a feeling I don't want to know.

Not surprisingly, Stephenson's college recruitment process became incredibly...well, fraught with complications. And as with most situations like this, it is hard to separate truth from rumor, and it is hard to know who is to blame for what. But if you really want to know what I remember about the reporting of that story, it is the wintry day I went to his apartment in Coney Island. I had never been to this particular housing project, and what I saw was not particularly inviting; in 2004, while Sebastian Telfair was in high school, a gang-related shooting erupted in these same projects. When you see a place like this from the inside, it does make you wonder about a number of assumptions you may have made, including those about recruitment process, and also about the attitudes and perceptions of those who had emerged from these same projects before him (Marbury, Telfair). It makes you wonder if perhaps Lance Stephenson Sr. has a good reason to take such control of his son's future, for better or worse.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Lance Stephenson finally committed to Cincinnati this week. I cannot say, obviously, how much he has matured in the past five years, or how much his father has changed (I found him, back then, to be a genuinely decent guy with no real idea what was about to come his way); given the complications surrounding Lance Jr.'s recruitment, and given the NBA struggles of his Coney Island predecessors, he is no longer a "can't-miss" prospect despite the fact that he won four city titles at Lincoln. But I have no doubt I will find myself pulling for him.

(Photo of Lance Stephenson Sr./Lance Jr.: New York Daily News)

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