(Photos courtesy New York Post and NJ.com)
At 12.2 points per game freshman Lance Stephenson is having a pretty decent first year when compared to most collegiate newcomers. Thing is, Lance Stephenson isn't like most collegiate newcomers. Most, don't have the all-time scoring record in the state of New York. And, most don't come already with a nickname and reputation, "Born Ready".
While some freshmen are able to come in and completely take over the college game, others need slight adjustments. In the case of Lance Stephenson, the raw talent is evident, but the adjustments are necessary.
When you pretty much score at will in high school, it's hard to comprehend that you might not have it so easy in college. Stephenson is like many who find out the Big East is full of talent and the teams are as good as any across the country.
"I expected wherever I went, I could play good," said Stephenson who admittedly set lofty goals for himself and the team. "I wanted to win every game, I wanted to go undefeated, but that's not going to happen. You win some and you're going to lose some."
That the Bearcats have done. They've won games that many thought they wouldn't and they've lost games that should've been "in the bag". No one knows that more than the ever-competitive Stephenson.
"Of course, I get mad every time I look back at the games," he said. "I watch a lot of film, so when I look at the game I go, 'Why did we do this, we should've done that," I just get real upset."
Watching Lance evolve, you can see that he is as "in" to the game as you would want a player. He had "the look" that you just can't teach everyone. The most surprising thing I found about him was that he's not necessarily as selfish as you would think an accomplished scorer would be.
The evidence shows that he shares the ball. He had seven assists in one game and five in a pair of others. Often, his passes aren't anticipated, otherwise he'd have plenty more assists.
"Long as we're winning, I don't really care how I play," said Stephenson. "That's how I feel."
Truthfully, you know his inconsistent play must bother him. However, there is no doubt that Stephenson wants to win as bad as anyone. You can see it.
While at times he has been the "go to" guy, he seems content to let Deonta Vaughn, Yancy Gates, Rashad Bishop or anyone else that steps up enjoy the honors. That's been the upside, when Stephenson hasn't been hitting, someone else usually has.
"I think it's better for me because I've got people on the team that can score just like me," he said this week. "It's better for me not using all that energy every game. It was my role in high school but I had to change in college where there's better players on the team that can hit the same shots I get."
It's all been part of the learning process for Stephenson, who still is putting up numbers that most freshmen would envy. Plus, despite a few late game miscues, #33 from Brooklyn is still your best player creating a shot with the ball. It's just that the shots haven't gone down the way he's used to.
While hitting about 45 percent of his shots, Stephenson's three-point shooting has been considerably off the mark at around 15 percent. That, in turn, has brought the team's average down from last season.
"We're still getting there," said Mick Cronin of his team's shooting woes. "Something we're trying to work hard on, especially with Lance, is understanding that you can't try to make a play just because it's time for you to make a play. Regardless of whether you're winning or losing, you've got to get a good shot each trip, that's how you become consistent."
That's where Stephenson has struggled, sometimes hoisting the ill-advised three rather than work for something closer in or finding a teammate with a better angle. He hasn't made (as of this article) a trey since December 19th against Lipscomb and is 0-for-13 since.
Like many Bearcat fans, he hopes the rim gets wider soon for himself and the team.
"I think we're taking the right shots because we make those shots," said Stephenson. "They're just not falling during the games. I make all my threes in practice but soon as the game hits, I'll be off sometimes. I'm going to get into it and try to get my three-point average up."
Patience and practice are essential to upping those numbers. Still, UC has won games when not shooting well (just 32 percent vs. Notre Dame). When the shots do start to fall, you could finally see this team play to its potential and winning games they're supposed to win.
"Sometimes when we get leads instead of pulling away a little bit, we're wasting some possessions on the offensive end," Cronin said of his team's difficulty in finishing some games. "Most of it is a lack of patience We have to work hard on getting someone the open shot. We can't drive the ball because we think it's time to drive the ball."
In the meantime, Stephenson seems content to wait and learn. The talk of "one and done" has died down. Perhaps he will attract NBA attention, but it sure appears that at least another year of the college game would be in his best interests.
Winning helps. No one can say that Lance Stephenson isn't a winner. Even though his numbers aren't where they should be, his heart is. This is clearly not a kid playing for stats.
"We lost some games I think we should've won, but it happens," he said of the current campaign. "As long as we keep winning and make the tournament, I'm happy with that."
As long as Lance Stephenson is happy, my guess is everyone else will be too.