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Stephenson might face uphill climb in quest to become first-round pick


Lance Stephenson was supposed to follow in the footsteps of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair. Stephenson is, after all, one of the most successful high school players in history, having led New York's storied Abraham Lincoln High School to four consecutive AA state championships while becoming the state's all-time leading scorer. Stephenson seemed poised carry on the tradition of Lincoln guards to, one decade after another, become a first-round pick in the NBA draft and achieve instant wealth and fame.

But now, as Stephenson goes through the pre-draft process of being interviewed by and performing for various teams across the country, his ascension to the same status as Marbury and Telfair is in doubt.

It's when added to some poor pre-draft interviews and concerns about his abilities as a shooting guard -- he seemingly hasn't improved enough from the time he was averaging 28.9 points in high school to his freshman season at Cincinnati, when he averaged 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds but shot only 21.9 percent from three-point range and 66.4 percent from the free-throw line -- that teams have begun to shy away from investing guaranteed money in a player who was nicknamed "Born Ready."

"I just can't see him getting into the first round," one team's player personnel scout said. "I see him going somewhere in the 35 to 45 range."

Several general managers and coaches said Stephenson did not do very well in his individual interviews at last month's pre-draft camp in Chicago. One said Stephenson acted offended when the team questioned him about his past, which includes a misdemeanor sexual assault charge stemming from an incident in which he allegedly groped a 17-year-old girl (he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and agreed to perform three days of community service) and an altercation with a teammate that landed him a two-game suspension. And despite being one of the 10 best high school players in the country, he reportedly was cut from Team USA's 18-and-under squad because of chemistry concerns.

After a recent workout with the Warriors that included Houston's Aubrey Coleman and South Florida's Dominique Jones, Stephenson sat down with three reporters and insisted none of those incidents happened.

"I didn't do nothing," Stephenson said. "All the stuff that happened in my past was totally false statements. I am just trying to move on and give a better image. All the statements that happened in the past, none of that happened, no."

According to Renan Ebeid, Lincoln High's athletic director, Stephenson's family has asked the school not to talk about the events that led to his suspensions.

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"They want to focus on him getting drafted and not his past, so we have to respect their wishes," Ebeid said.

Teams may be willing to overlook Stephenson's transgressions if he has the talent to warrant being drafted higher. But one scout said he is not sure where Stephenson fits in on an NBA team.

At 6-5, 210 pounds, Stephenson has a great NBA body for a shooting guard -- big, powerful, and he has lost weight since his freshman season, when he was accused of being pudgy. His physique is similar to that of Sacramento's Tyreke Evans.

However, Stephenson is not accurate enough from long distance to put him on the floor for long stretches because teams sag off him on defense and dare him to shoot. He can't take full advantage of his body to get in the lane and draw fouls because he makes only two-thirds of his free throws. And he is not quick enough to defend a lot of point guards.

Despite the opinions of many team executives and scouts who spoke with Stephenson, one scout came away from his interview pleasantly surprised. But he still had doubts.

"I have to admit, I went into the interview with a preconceived notion about the kid and I came away impressed, I really did," the scout said. "He is not going to cure cancer, but I think the kid has a good heart. He seemed genuine. I just don't know where he is going to fit. I guess you could put him out on the floor to guard somebody like, I don't know, [Lakers reserve Sasha] Vujacic."

Stephenson said he decided to enter the draft following his freshman season after making a "family decision," though he did not elaborate. He has a 2-year-old daughter from a previous relationship in high school.

Because the NCAA required college players to declare their intentions a month earlier this year than in past seasons, it is too late for Stephenson to pull his name from the draft and rejoin the Bearcats. The scout said Stephenson could slip in at the end of the first round if there is a team that does not need immediate help and is willing to allow him to go the developmental league to work on his shooting.

Otherwise, it seems, he is likely to be a second-round pick and will have to work diligently and prove his merit if he wants to have the same success as his Lincoln High predecessors.

"I just want to show everybody I am a hard worker and a leader on the court," Stephenson said. "I am not really worried about where I am going to come out in the draft. I am just trying to impress everybody."