When Cincinnati freshman Lance Stephenson said he was entering the 2010 NBA Draft earlier this week, the popular response was “Too early.” For a player who has been hyped since the 8th grade as the Next Big Thing coming out of New York City — more specifically, from the same Lincoln H.S. in Brooklyn that produced Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair — the “bust” monitors of cynics have been on red-alert for years, and this didn’t change things.
His resume is just as or more solid than many other freshmen who are going pro this year. A McDonald’s All-American in high school, Lance won Big East Rookie of the Year in ’09-10 while putting up 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. The 6-5 guard was the best player and leading scorer on the Bearcats. He had his standout moments — hitting the game-winning free throws against UConn with less than a second on the clock, dropping 23 on Georgetown on the road, and leading an exhausted Cincy squad to a near-upset over a rested West Virginia in the Big East Tournament — but his reputation still took a hit with the Bearcats missing the NCAA Tournament and Lance shooting 21% from three-point range.
Now it’s time for Lance to show and prove. A couple days after Lance declared for the Draft, I got up with him to talk about his decision:
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Dime: How would you evaluate your season at Cincinnati?
Lance Stephenson: I feel I had a great freshman season individually. But basketball is a team sport; I would trade in the (Big East) Rookie of the Year for a Big East ‘chip all day.
Dime: Basketball-wise, did you get what you were looking for?
LS: Yes. I got to play in the toughest league in college basketball. That’s what I was looking for more than anything.
Dime: Off the court, what the experience like being away from home, away from New York, being on your own for the first time?
LS: My experience in college was fun and exciting. I got to meet new people. Being on my own gave me a sense of responsibility.
Dime: What was the best thing you picked up during your freshman year?
LS: I learned a lot about how to prepare for the game in a way I hadn’t before. The amount of preparation it takes to compete against a competitive team. Coach (Mick) Cronin showed me how to break down game film. He taught me to pay a lot of attention to detail.
Dime: You had played in Madison Square Garden a lot in high school. Was it different playing there in college, especially in the Big East Tournament?
LS: Playing in MSG is always exciting. The difference between high school and college was that the competition was tougher and the stakes were higher.
Dime: What, if anything, do you think has changed about your game since high school?
LS: Playing on the college level made me stronger and faster. More important, it made me smarter on the court.
Dime: What position do you see yourself playing in the pros?
LS: The one or the two.
Dime: What would you bring to an NBA team?
LS: I’m a versatile player who can play multiple positions. I’m willing to listen to do whatever it takes to help a team win. Like I said earlier, I’m stronger, faster and smarter on the court — all of those things will make me a difference-maker in the pros.
Dime: What do you think you’re going to have to show NBA scouts during your workouts?
LS: I want to show my versatility and that I’m more than willing to put the work in to get better.
Dime: When we first posted the news of your Draft announcement, it seemed the majority of the response was negative. What would you say to people who think you aren’t ready for this yet?
LS: I know people are concerned about me. This is a major move. But this is something I’ve been preparing for my whole life. I want the people out there to know that I’m gonna work extremely hard to make my dream come true.