'Born Ready' Still Coming Along
Cincinnati needed offense in the worst way, yet the greatest offensive force in the storied history of New York prep basketball sat on the bench watching.
A year ago, Lance Stephenson averaged nearly 28.9 points a game for Brooklyn's Lincoln High School. This year as a freshman at Cincinnati, he's averaging 28.7 – minutes a game, that is.
Lance Stephenson, the subject of a documentary/Internet reality series called "Born Ready," is learning there are still nights when he's not necessarily Big East ready. Tuesday in Tampa was one of those nights.
It's not fair to blame the Bearcats' 65-57 loss on one person -- especially when the Bearcats were all equally inept: 16 turnovers, 16-of-26 shooting from the free throw line. Yet Stephenson is in a year-long process discovering the difference from being a high school superstar to a Big East freshman.
Stephenson said "the speed" of the game is the biggest adjustment moving up to the college ranks.
"Just making the right decision at the right time," Stephenson told FanHouse. "Sometimes you force stuff and make the wrong decision."
Stephenson tied his season-low with only four points against USF. He missed four of five field goals, including both 3-point attempts, and went 2-for-4 from the free throw line. He also had four turnovers.
While Stephenson is leading the Bearcats in scoring this season (11.6 points per game), Tuesday night was obviously not one of Stephenson's finest moments as a Bearcat. In fact, one die hard Cincinnati fan waiting outside the Bearcats locker room in a Sun Dome hallway questioned why a reporter would want to talk to Stephenson after that performance.
"Don't they usually ask to talk to the players that play the best?" the UC fan said. "He made the first basket of the game then had [four] turnovers. He couldn't have played any worse if he tried."
But because of Stephenson's background -- breaking Sebastian Telfair's prep scoring record with 2,946 points, becoming the first player to win four consecutive Public School Athletic League championships, the controversy surrounding his involvement with Under Armour while being recruited at Maryland, the "Born Ready" documentary, agreeing to a plea deal last year to avoid jail time for a sexual assault case -- how can Stephenson not be the story, whether he scores four or 40?
Despite his high school numbers -- he averaged 28.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a senior -- the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Stephenson said he doesn't feel like he's targeted by opposing defenses.
"Not really," he said. "It's much harder scoring in college basketball. You have to make the right move. Players they play together [on defense], they help on the weak side and make it much harder for me to score.
"I just try to pass the ball and use my teammates because they can make the same shots I can make. Do the little things to get my teammates open."
While Stephenson frequently shot -- and scored -- at will in high school, he's only scored more than 20 points twice this season, including a season-high 22 in a double overtime loss to Xavier.
"In high school I didn't go through picks so it was much easier for me [to score] in high school," said Stephenson, who is shooting 46 percent from the field and 20 percent from 3-point range. "Now I'm going through picks and there's always like a time out. Sometimes you're up and soon as there is a time out, everything calms down. You just have to keep playing and stay focused and win."
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said Stephenson's effort this year "has been pretty consistent."
"The biggest challenge for him to learn what I was talking about with [USF's] Dominique Jones," Cronin said. "How to use the offense to get himself free."
Cronin said Stephenson is one of his "young guys that need to learn that they need to learn how to use screens and how to be effective within an offense. Because when you get late in the year, you can't just give the ball and cut. You have to learn how to do it within the framework of the offense."
While Stephenson's rookie year on the court continues to be a learning process, he's been impressive off the court. Stephenson's first semester 3.5 GPA was the team's highest. He said on the basketball court, he would give himself a "B" or "C+" grade up to this point.
"I think I'm doing good so far," Stephenson said. "I think I'm playing harder, playing much smarter. I just have to keep playing hard.
"I knew picking this school that the Big East was going to be a tough conference. It's one of the best conferences in the nation. I just have to keep focused and get in the gym more and make shots and work hard."
The Bearcats' work for an NCAA tournament bid is far from over. The loss to USF dropped Cincinnati 15-10 overall and 6-7 in the Big East and squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
"It's too early, but everybody's got to talk about it," Cronin said. "I understand that. ... If you don't win games, you're out of the discussion. There's a lot of teams in the discussion. But the discussion always gets settled between the lines."
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at email@example.com