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What's happening with Lance Stephenson

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The season Lance Stephenson is experiencing fascinates me.

 

There was the hype before he ever stepped foot on campus - "Born Ready" and the legal trouble and the questions about whether he'd be even eligible to play this year. There was the hype in the preseason when those who saw him play in open gym or in summer leagues said the hype about his talent (and, I suppose, his born readiness) was legit.

 

And there was the hype that followed the Toledo game, the second contest of his career, when he made 6 of 13 shots and finished with 16 points. It led to the Big East rookie of the week award, and it led to even greater expectations. Mick Cronin said Stephenson was a game-changer, and at first, he proved to be exactly that.

 

"Enjoy him while you can," was the thought espoused by many Bearcats fans. "He might be one-and-done and off to the NBA after the season is over."

 

Three months later, after watching Stephenson average 11.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 28.7 minutes per games, how do you feel now about those preceding statements? There's little doubt Stephenson has an NBA-type body - that was what struck me first when I saw him in a preseason intrasquad scrimmage - and that he has NBA-type moves and NBA-type athleticism.

 

But we've learned much about Stephenson since the Bearcats started playing - the most-striking (and somewhat-surprising), is that Stephenson doesn't perform like a one-and-done kind of guy. When it comes to actually playing basketball, he's been nothing more than a pretty good freshman.

 

As Mick Cronin has said this season, there are very few freshmen in existence that have the skills and knowhow to take over a game as rookies - players like Kentucky's John Wall and Demarcus Cousins come to mind. Most tend to struggle sooner or later - or both.

 

Which is where Stephenson stands at this point. At times, he looks tentative. At times, he looks unsure of himself. At times, frankly, he looks lost on the court.

 

A prime example occurred last Sunday vs. Syracuse. In the first half, Cronin put Stephenson at the point guard spot against the Orange's vaunted zone defense. At 6-foot-5, Stephenson, Cronin figured, could better handle Syracuse's guards, who are pretty tall themselves across the front line of that zone. And for a half, Stephenson looked really good, recording eight points and six rebounds and handing off plenty of would-be assists to Bearcats who were fouled and sent to shoot free throws.

 

But in the second half, Syracuse adjusted its defense a bit, placing its wing defenders closer to half-court and making the lob pass to the interior much more difficult. Stephenson, Cronin later said, got gun-shy.

 

Coming off two-straight games where Stephenson didn't start the ballgame - his abdominal strain notwithstanding - and with Cronin recently complaining about his defense, I wondered about the kind of progress the freshman is making.

 

"He had a couple great practices (after the Notre Dame game)," Cronin said following the Syracuse loss. "He and I talked about his defense and his focus. One thing all young guys struggle with is focusing on scouting reports, paying attention, basic things. It's like coaching freshmen in high school. It'll drive you crazy. I have got to have your full attention."

 

This is not to say that Stephenson's talent has disintegrated. It's just that college basketball is completely different than anything he's ever experienced on the court. In a physical and a mental sense.

 

"All freshmen are like that, because every game is different," Cronin said. "It's the first time he's seen Syracuse's zone. Last year he was playing Grady High School."

 

Something to think about anyway.

 

--This is what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim thinks about UC. I'm not sure it will calm the souls of those Bearcats fans who are really upset with the way this squad has played for much of the year, but it's a pretty interesting comment from one of the best coaches the college game has ever known.

 

"They have the players," Boeheim said. "It's just fitting them all together. That's difficult to do with so many new players. Stephenson is a good player and (Cashmere) Wright is a good player. They've been good at home because they've been able to keep the momentum. They got the lead, and they started to get tentative, especially against the zone. They've got really good pieces, but it takes a while."

 

The question is: how much more patience do Bearcats fans have?

 

--You know what we haven't done in a while? A mailbag. If you're interested, shoot me some questions at jkatzo@hotmail.com. I'll attempt to answer them. You have queries about the basketball squad, Butch Jones' football team, the reemergence of Mary Wineberg? Send them to me.

 

 

 

 

 

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