After starting all but two games, Lance Stephenson's first regular season ends Saturday in our nation's capital against Georgetown. While his stats probably aren't what most expected, you have to admit he's been fairly solid compared to most incoming freshmen and he has all the potential in the world.
Now, he takes his act to D.C. to help give the Bearcats some momentum heading into the Big East tournament next week. Just like any Big East opponent on the road, the Hoyas will be tough.
"I played a lot of the players that's on the team now in high school," said Stephenson. "I think this is going to be a big game for us because I think to go into the tournament we've got to have at least one win going in there."
Winning in Georgetown wouldn't silence all of the UC critics, but it would at least tone them down.
That would put the 'Cats at 17-13 and then they'd probably have to determine their destination from there by racking up some W's at Madison Square Garden. Just like most of the teams in the Big East, they've got the talent to do it.
"We need the confidence because we've been struggling a lot this year," said Stephenson. "There were games I think we should've won, so I think this game is going to be one of the big games for us."
Coming off a legendary prep career, Lance Stephenson is not used to dropping games that were there for the taking. While not putting up Sportscenter numbers, Stephenson has had his share of Sportscenter plays and arguably plays as hard as anyone when he's on the floor.
"We lost a lot of games that I thought we (had) won," Stephenson said of his first up-and-down season. "The St. John's game, we should've won that game, we just gave it away."
This is true. Nobody would know that more than Lance as he was the one who threw a key inbound pass in the final seconds to one of the St. John's guys. Being from New York City, that memory will stick with him for a long time.
"That was the worst UC game that we had," Stephenson described. "We were up four with 30 seconds left and gave up the game. I was so upset. I felt like I let my family and friends down."
Alas, redemption is right around the corner though. More of Stephenson's family and friends will be on hand at "The Garden" to see if "Born Ready" is ready yet. One thing's for sure, he is ready to atone for his mistakes in that last visit to the Big Apple in January.
"I just wanted to play good so bad when I was in New York," Stephenson recalled of the nightmare against St. John's. "Nothing was falling for me That's what happens when you're too high for a game. I just need to come and play how I usually play."
Well, usual is about 11 points and five rebounds. Some time's that enough, other times Stephenson needs to be more reliable. However, early talk (from others) that he was selfish is unfounded. He's made plenty of NBA caliber passes and has been a good teammate on the bench when he's not in the game.
"I'm not worrying about the minutes, I'm just worrying about us winning games," said Stephenson. "Minutes don't concern me at all. Sometimes when somebody's playing as well as I am and I think they deserve more minutes, sometimes I tell Coach,'I think Dion or Larry is playing better than me now, stick with him'."
Sometimes Mick Cronin takes that into consideration. Sometimes he doesn't. Either way, Lance Stephenson is content with the decision he made to come to the University of Cincinnati.
"Oh, of course," he said "I think this is one of the best decisions that I've made in my life. I'm going to stick with it."
In the end, that decision benefits both Lance and UC and Mick Cronin. At the very least, he needs some seasoning and mental preparation before he takes on the rigors of the NBA. And, he hasn't budged in his decision to return, even when asked repeatedly.
"Oh, of course," he replied again.
It may not give you any comfort now, but having Stephenson return as a sophomore is outstanding news. You add him to classmates Cashmere Wright, Jaquon Parker, Sean Kilpatrick and (future juniors) Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon and that's certainly something to build upon.
What everyone needs to accept is that building takes time and patience. Should the players above remain, there's a good chance that patience will be rewarded.