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Stephenson says he's staying

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In what was supposed to be a rather mundane, mid-week players availability session today, freshman Lance Stephenson caused a little stir when he said he thinks he'll forgo a chance at the NBA next season and will return to UC for his sophomore season.

 

This decision, he implied, wasn't for certain, and at least one person who's close to the national recruiting scene texted me that we shouldn't write Stephenson's name into next year's starting lineup just yet. But Stephenson said he still has work to accomplish before taking the next step of his career.

 

"I don't think I've had an NBA season this year," he said. "The best choice for me is to stay."

 

By that, Stephenson meant that he didn't dominate as much as he should have and he didn't lead his team to the victories that a surefire NBA prospect would have. Although his preseason hype has helped muffle the fact that Stephenson is having a pretty good - but not a great - freshman season, he, on Tuesday at least, seemed to realize what many others have been saying lately: he's not a one-and-done type player.

 

"I don't think I've struggled," said Stephenson, who's averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the floor (19.1 percent from the 3). "It hasn't been hard. I think I just have to keep going in the gym and working on my stuff. I expected when I was coming to Cincinnati that it was going to be tough each game. I'd have to come focused. Sometimes you're going to have a bad game. Every game, you're not going to play good. Some of the games I had, I wasn't expecting it. But I think it's going to come to me."

 

I asked him if he thought, before the season, whether he was the type of player that could spend just one season in college basketball before setting sail on his pro career.

 

"Nah, I just wanted to play hard and get better every day and whatever happens, happens," Stephenson said. "I wasn't like, 'Oh, after this year, I know I'm going to leave.' I just said I had to play hard and not worry about that."

 

While you might be skeptical that Stephenson really is leaning toward staying in Clifton for another year, it's clear he still needs plenty of work. And he seems to understand that as well.

 

"Lance's big thing is maturity and not trying to score on a guy because he just scored on him on the previous play, not breaking the offense and going 1 on 5," Mick Cronin said. "The basketball term you would hear most people say is he has to learn how to let the game come to him. But that's tough when people just handed him the ball and got out of the way. I'm trying to teach him to be more efficient with less dribbles, getting him the ball in areas where he can be a more efficient offensive player."

 

Stephenson hasn't been a problem child this year, either. Cronin says he hasn't pouted after a game or practice in which he's struggled. Instead, he's always eager to show up the next day to work harder. But as for the NBA?

 

"It's tough to say," Cronin said. "Obviously, I'd love to be able to get him to a point where he's ready to be a successful NBA player. For any player, there's going to the NBA and then there's going to the NBA and playing well and having a career. That will be a decision he and his family where we'll all sit down. They've been great to deal with. When the season is over, we'll worry about that. I can tell you, he definitely wants to play better, and I want to help him play better."

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