GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It was late in the third quarter of the Frankie Williams Charity Classic when Lance Stephenson finally donned a white No. 24 jersey and checked into the game.
After taking a test at school and getting delayed by traffic, Stephenson played only about 15 minutes in a contest his White team lost 128-122 to the Blue team, but he sure made news in the time he was there.
In a wide-ranging interview, Stephenson and his father, Lance Stephenson Sr., talked about the schools they’re still considering; the recruiting process; the pending sexual assault case; the recent Washington Post story which was highly critical of Lance and his father; the BornReady.TV Website; and whether Lance Sr. has ever asked for money in the recruiting process.
The 6-foot-5 Stephenson is a McDonald’s All-American and the all-time leading scorer in New York State history. He seemed poised to pick Kansas in late March, but held off and the Jayhawks eventually received a commitment from Xavier Henry instead. Now Stephenson says he’s considering four schools.
“Arizona, Florida, Memphis and Maryland. I don’t have a favorite,” Stephenson said after scoring 21 points in the loss.
“I’m just taking my time,” he said. “I got about three more weeks so I’m just going to stay focused, work out and play a little more ball. I got three more weeks to make my decision.”
Asked if he had a specific date in mind, Stephenson said, “No.”
Stephenson has taken official visits to Kansas, Maryland and St. John’s and has two remaining. Lance Sr. said his son would take his two remaining visits — presumably to some combination of Arizona, Florida and Memphis — but declined to say when or where the visits would take place.
“We have two official visits left and we’re going to use those last two visits real wise,” Lance Sr. said. “At this point we’re just trying to keep Lance’s recruitment private so that he can actually be recruited.”
The Washington Post story was critical of Lance Sr.’s involvement in his son’s recruitment, saying that sources said “his father’s involvement has been heavy-handed to the point of becoming detrimental. Those sources also indicated some coaches were apprehensive of the role the father would assume once Stephenson arrived on campus.”
In response, Lance Sr. said: “Well, The Washington Post’s opinion is like an asshole. Everybody got one. It’s just opinion.”
He added: “I haven’t heard a coach say my presence in the situation has hindered his recruitment so it’s just speculations and opinions. The Washington Post is a big-time newspaper and we have a lot of respect for them, but it’s their opinion. What more can I say about it?”
Lance Sr. added that he felt the media had turned on him and his son and to some extent, I have to agree. Consider the things that have been said and written about Lance Stephenson in recent weeks by every Joe Blogger with an Internet connection out there, most of whom have never met Lance or his father. Lance has been called a thug, a killer of programs and all manner of other bad names.
Now this is me saying this, not Lance Sr., but seriously, would the media ever talk about a white player like this? Somehow members of the media seem to toss out these terms more often when talking about black athletes than white ones.
“Lance just wants to play ball,” his father said. “I think he gets a bad rap because the people want to talk to him and want to be around him. He as a player and us as a family have allowed the media to be involved with us. And it seems like at this point the media is turning on him.”
He added: “I think that he and his family have been fair with the media and we just ask for the same respect….If the media will just bear with us, I think Lance will be that player that everybody thinks he can be.”
As for the court case, Lance Sr. said his son wants his name cleared. Alberto Ebanks, the Stephensons’ attorney, is hoping to get the case dismissed or plea bargained, but on Thursday Ebanks indicated there was no news and the case seemed headed for adjudication on June 29.
“The court case is out there and that’s just something he’s got to go through,” Lance Sr. said of his son. “He wants his name cleared and he wants to be recognized as a good person on and off the court.”
On the subject of academics, Lance Sr. said his son would definitely qualify for college.
“He’s going to qualify and we’re happy for that. We just want him to finish with school so he can go on to the next level,” he said.
While there are rumors out there that Lance Sr. has asked for money in exchange for sending his son to school, the father flatly denied them as false.
“All we ask for is for an opportunity for our kid to play basketball, that’s it,” he said. “We only dealt with St. John’s, Maryland and Kansas and…we just want our son to play ball. We recognize that a scholarship is money because you’re getting a free ride at a prestigious university. So money is not something that me and my wife are out to get for Lance.
“We come to events like this [Charity Classic] and nobody offered us money or gave us money, so I couldn’t see a coach saying that we wanted money. That’s not the reason why we didn’t pick a certain school. That’s definitely a violation. We don’t want to do anything to break the rules.”
As for colleges, Lance Sr. has always said he wanted to get his son out of New York and thus perhaps it didn’t come as a surprise that St. John’s was not in the final mix. But Lance Sr. said his son also feels proud to represent New York City.
“I love New York and I don’t want to make New York sound like it’s hell, because it’s not,” he said. “Lance comes into the game repping New York first, Brooklyn second and Coney Island. He loves New York and there’s nothing about trying to get away because of this.
“I feel like he went through this whole process unharmed and he pretty much did everything he said he was going to do, that’s win four championships, he broke the scoring record, he led Lincoln in rebounding, I thought he made his teammates better.”
Kansas seemed like a likely destination for Lance in late March, but after John Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky, Henry became available and Kansas got him instead.
“This is a long process and you have to be sure of where you want to go and what you want to do. Kansas is a good program but we just have to look out for Lance and make sure that he’s comfortable,” Lance Sr. said.
As for reports that the BornReady.tv Website triggered Kansas or other schools to back off Lance’s recruitment, Lance Sr. said he believes the site is in compliance with NCAA regulations.
“The people from Born Ready did the documentary in compliance with the NCAA and we made sure that everything was done right and it was legal to do it,” he said.
The Washington Post reported that compliance officers said “a school likely will look into any prospective athlete’s affiliation with a Web site to determine whether the relationship produced compensation for the athlete or his family, whether a third party like an agent or financial adviser was involved and what prompted the company producing the Web site to form the relationship in the first place.”
The newspaper said representatives from Fader Films and Den of Thieves, the production companies that run bornready.tv, declined to comment for their story.
The NCAA did not begin investigating Renardo Sidney until he committed to Mississippi State, so a potential investigation of BornReady.tv likely wouldn’t begin until Stephenson committed to a school, a college coach involved in his recruitment said.
As for the schools still remaining, Lance Sr. said Maryland was in the hunt for Lance’s services.
“I talk with Coach [Gary] Williams, Coach [Keith] Booth and Coach [Chuck] Driesell, they’ve just been there,” he said. “Maryland is going through their process where they want to pick a player and they’re not putting any rush on us. They want Lance to be sure if he does want to go to Maryland, that he really wants to be there. Maryland has been really patient in working with the family.”
Both Memphis and Florida are also apparently in the mix, although Lance Sr. didn’t comment specifically on them.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner told me the other night that his school is still interested in landing a few more players.
“If we have an opportunity to sign a few more we will, but they’ve got to be good enough,” Pastner said.
Florida appears to have gotten into the mix late. The Gators are losing point guard Nick Calathes to Greece but will bring in point guard Kenny Boynton to complement Erving Walker.
As for Arizona, Lance Sr. said Arizona-bound guard Kevin Parrom is helping to recruit Lance to the PAC-10.
“Kevin’s been wonderful,” he said. “He really wants to play with Lance. He expressed that to me and to Lance. He said, ‘Hey, come down for a visit,’ similar to the way that James Padgett talked about taking a visit to Maryland. ‘Hey Lance, you gotta come down and check out Maryland.’ Well, Kevin’s doing the same thing. He really wants to see him and Lance play together on the same team. It would be a New York thing.”
Stephenson was in Arizona several years ago for an AAU event, the Cactus Classic, but Lance Sr. would not comment on whether his son will take an official to the campus.
“We’re looking into a lot of schools and we’re just going to narrow it down. There’s no rush,” he said. “I don’t want to say any school’s in the lead or reveal our moves. We’re just going to make a move and stick with it and you guys will be the first to know.”
Pitt-bound forward Dante Taylor, a Greenburgh native who is pictured at left, was named MVP of his home tournament after pouring in a team-high 32 points for the Blue team, many on rim-rocking dunks. Cincinnati-bound wing Sean Kilpatrick scored 26 points for the winners, including back-to-back 3’s, and looked highly impressive in taking St. John’s-bound wing Omari Lawrence one-on-one. Miami commit Durand Scott chipped in with 21 points and Kansas State commit Jordan Henriquez added 11 points..
For the losers, Marshall-bound big man Hassan Whiteside led all scorers with 37 points, scoring at will on leaping dunks. He was given the Sportsmanship Award. Providence-bound guard Vincent Council added 15 points and Russ Smith and Brian Voelkel scored 13 apiece.
Lawrence scored 10 points for the White team and said he will play for Jamaica in the upcoming FIBA U19 World Championships in New Zealand.
Special thanks to Benjamin Carter, Dave Vandiver, Tom Sampogna, Courtney Abrams and the folks from FRENJI Sports for putting on a first-class event for a good cause and taking care of the media. The fish sandwich and maccaroni & cheese were especially tasty.
(Photos courtesy Lonnie Webb Photography)