BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Less than two minutes into his Public Schools Athletic League semifinal,
His passion uncorked, the lean, muscular star with the fiery on-court demeanor goes face-to-face with a defender, yelling, "Let's go, n-----!"
"That competitiveness is his greatest strength," said
After Lincoln's 74-64 win, Stephenson explained, "I just wanted to get my team hyped."
Hype, as he knows, can be a double-edged sword. Blessed with an assassin's detachment, the nation's top unsigned recruit has mowed down the competition along Gotham's grassroots scene since he was in the sixth grade. Accompanying success, however, has been the demand to live up to the standards set by Coney Island natives
While the NBA's age-limit rule precludes Stephenson, 18, from making a prom-to-pros jump like Telfair, he has already supplanted his predecessor atop the city's wins (four PSAL titles) and scoring lists (2,946). After flirting with the idea of following class of 2008 star
After turning down offers to make the announcement locally, he was expected to slip on a Jayhawks hat at the McDonald's All-American festivities in Miami on Tuesday morning, but delayed the choice. "Nothing really changed," Stephenson said when asked if his postponement came as a ripple effect of the recruiting uncertainty created by Memphis coach
In addition to his hectic on-court schedule (Lincoln played five games in six nights during one stretch), the introverted Stephenson has had to mature quickly. As much as meeting his girlfriend,
When asked if becoming a father and going through the pending court case affected him, Stephenson said, "I'm focused on basketball, not off the court things."
The questions have related to his game, too. After trying out for Team USA's 18-and-under unit in July, Stephenson was cut due to chemistry concerns. In season, recruiters noted regression in his skills, lamenting a lack of left-handed drives and wondering where his vaunted shooting range had gone. During February's Primetime Shootout in Trenton, N.J., a marquee event in which Stephenson went for 42 and 35 points in previous years, one recruiter said his skills were "lousy" and "he needs to lose weight." Another countered that he "loves his large hands" and the fact that he appeared "unafraid to fail."
New York-based talent evaluator
Looking to impress Kansas assistant coach
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Suiting up for
At 12, Stephenson caught the eye of talent evaluator
The driving force behind Stephenson's development has always been his father,
Lance Sr. did all he could to ensure that his son survived a neighborhood blighted by guns and drugs. Packer remembers Lance Sr. attending a meeting for an anti-drug community group, called Coney Island Lives for Youth, when his son was in grade school. Accepting donations from locals, Packer said that most gave the suggested $25, but Lance Sr. offered between $200 to $300. "I told a banker if he can give that much, why can't you?" Packer said.
Stephenson was set to leave the neighborhood in the summer of 2005, when he enrolled at Bishop Loughlin, an all-boys Catholic school in Brooklyn. A standout at the ABCD camp in New Jersey, he challenged
Stephenson attended Loughlin for three days before playing in the championship game of the Conrad McRae Youth League at Brooklyn's Dean Street Park. After his team lost the final and he was not named MVP, both father and son became volatile, throwing a trophy and shouting vulgarities, including claims that organizers linked to Loughlin had misled them. That Monday, Stephenson did not attend classes and Loughlin coach
"Stop lying," Pretlow said. "How do you know?"
"I'm outside his classroom," Morton said.
If Coney Island was the isolated landmass from
Playing for the local school, college coaches immediately identified Stephenson's potential. As a sophomore he showed a shooter's stroke and played against the likes of
Things only improved in his junior year, as he started to chide his teammates less and brought a state title home. When he tried to take the next step to the Team USA level, however, trying out for the U.S. under-18 national team in Washington, D.C., he was cut from the final roster. Knowing that talent was never the issue, he vowed to work harder on restraining his emotions. For the first time that the father and son could remember, the coaches had taken the ball out of Stephenson's hands.
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It was a cheerless Father's Day for the Stephenson family last June. Playing on Lance Sr.'s newly established AAU team, Raising Champions, at the Rumble in the Bronx tourney, Lance and his teammates slogged through three forgettable losses. Unable to make it out of pool play, the father, who calls himself his son's "agent," lectured his players afterward. "Man," he said, "we didn't even get a dunk."
To his son, he said, "You can be king of New York, but not if you play like this."
What raised eyebrows as much as the team's poor play was that the father finally had an AAU team, just like fellow top recruit
As early as the eighth grade, Stephenson sat down with his parents and his AAU coach to discuss marketing. "We saw pro things in Lance," said Charles, who coached him with the Reebok-sponsored N.Y. Panthers. "We thought he'd carry the mantel for Reebok."
Though Stephenson left Charles' Panthers to play for Morton's Juice when he transferred to Lincoln, more attention was paid to Stephenson's footwear during the recruiting process. New York recruitniks treated the labels on his sneakers like tea leaves to predict where he would attend college.
Known for playing on the balls of his feet, Stephenson caused a stir when he started wearing Under Armour socks and reportedly testing its sneakers. Having broken onto the Brooklyn basketball scene by providing sneakers and clothing at Boys & Girls High, Under Armour, which is owned by former Maryland football player and Board of Trustees member
Asked whether the interlacement of company and school would influence his college choice, Stephenson, who has worn the Nike sneakers of
In his own words, his father made a stronger statement about Under Armour, telling
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There are two tattoos on Stephenson's right biceps. The top one is of a young basketball player dribbling with his right hand and fending off any oncoming defenders with his left. The words
Below that is an ink design of Coney Island's skyline, replete with the Wonder Wheel and other rides from the beachside community's famed Astroland amusement park.
As his roller-coaster recruitment process and prep career enters its final turn, Stephenson said he is focused on playing in Wednesday night's McDonald's game after falling in the state semifinal to Rice (Harlem, N.Y.) on Saturday. Over the years, Stephenson's father has mentioned the "hate" that New York fans have for their prodigies and the desire to relocate his son to a passionate fan base where the coach will be tough on him. If those words are to be interpreted as hints, both Maryland and Kansas would seem to be fits, and St. John's would be out. Having stayed with point guard
Stephenson certainly looked comfortable in Lincoln's 78-56 win over the Bronx's JFK High in the PSAL AA-Division finals in Madison Square Garden. In the week leading up to the game, Ellis, who has played Robin to Stephenson's Batman since the two were in grade school, would say simple things like "Hello," but all his friend would say was "History," to focus him on becoming the first team in New York's storied prep landscape to win four-straight city titles. With the capstone victory the classmates became history boys. "This was a lot of hard work," said Stephenson, tears welling in his eyes as four television cameras continued the