Heard it From Hoard: Column 85
I understand that you're hesitant.
After growing attached to some great prospects like Vincent Banks, Tyree Evans, and Hernol Hall who signed with Cincinnati but never played for the Bearcats, you're afraid to commit to Lance Stephenson.
I'm here to tell you that it's OK to go crazy.
Sure, he still has to be ruled eligible by the NCAA, but a week ago most of us had no idea that the best unsigned prospect in the country was even considering UC. And now, if the leading scorer in the history of New York state high school basketball is playing college ball this fall, he'll be wearing a Bearcat uniform.
Does anybody still doubt Mick Cronin's ability to sign blue chip recruits?
"We've been trying to recruit Lance for two years, but he was going to Kansas," Coach Cronin told me. "When the coaching changes (Billy Gillespie out, John Calipari in at Kentucky) started happening in the spring and it looked like (former Memphis recruit) Xavier Henry would head to Kansas and Lance may be starting his recruiting process all over, Tony Stubblefield went to work on it and did an unbelievable job. The Kansas situation was tough for Lance's family because they thought he was going there, so they decided to do everything very quietly this time. Tony developed a great relationship and trust level with the family and I can't say enough about how hard he worked on it and what a great job he did."
Stephenson averaged roughly 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists last year at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, NY and played in the McDonald's All-America Game. Coach Cronin vividly remembers the first time he saw the 6'5", 200 lb. guard in action.
"It was his sophomore year and he got 40 on St. Patrick's in the Prime Time Shootout against (Villanova's) Corey Fisher among other great players - they were loaded that year," Cronin said. "The thing about Lance that strikes you right away is that he is physically strong. He's a big guard with tremendous strength and explosiveness that can do everything you need to do on the offensive end - he can make shots and make plays. He's the only guy to win four straight New York City titles in the public league and that says a lot right there.
The addition of the kid called "Born Ready" should give Cincinnati one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in the country.
"It ranks right there with the year when we signed DerMarr Johnson and Kenny Satterfield in the same season," Cronin told me. "Jaquon Parker is maybe the most underrated player I've ever seen and Sean Kilpatrick is a tremendous addition for us. Add Lance with those guys and it's going to be a special class. Lance is probably the most decorated recruit to ever sign with Cincinnati because he's been one of the top-rated guys in his class for so long. He's as talented a player as I've ever recruited."
Sure there are some hurdles to clear before Stephenson suits up in the fall, but one issue that Cronin says he's not concerned with is the 18-year-old's reputation for having a bad attitude on the court.
"All I can tell you is that when I look at Lance I see a guy who wants to win and plays extremely hard, and those are the first two qualities I look for in a recruit," Cronin said. "If Lance as a young guy wears that on his sleeve a little bit, it is my job to help him channel his energies and competitiveness. If our team needed anything, it was a tough, hard-nosed guy with high expectations that wants to win big. That was just what the doctor ordered for us to help us compete with the top of the Big East. I welcome everything that Lance brings to the table with his competitiveness between the lines. It's easy to deal with guys that are emotional but play hard."
If high school players could still go directly to the NBA, Stephenson would have probably been a first round draft pick. His college career isn't likely to last for four years.
"His family told (Athletic Director) Mike Thomas that they liked the fact that we talked about how we could help Lance become a better player and grow as a person," Cronin said. "It's very obvious that he wants to play in the NBA and I'm OK with that. He's needs coaching and he needs someone who can help him get better so that he can get to where he wants to go. So our approach is day-to-day. With players of that caliber, they don't need to worry about next year or what's going to happen in the future, they need to focus on becoming a better player every day. Enjoy however long you're in college, enjoy your teammates, enjoy the innocence of it, and that's how I want him to approach things. If you deposit hard work and show people you're a winner, then eventually you're going to cash in big. In our league you had better have some guys who are going to play at the next level. You need to have some winners with some experience and you need to have some guys with next-level talent if you're going to be a competitor in our league. That's just life in the Big East."
Stephenson's commitment has already brought Cincinnati considerable national attention and should help increase television exposure and ticket sales.
"We've made great strides in our program, but we had a long way to go," Cronin said. "We had to totally start over at the bottom and we've made great progress but we've kind of done it quietly in terms of the national scene. Obviously when you sign someone with Lance's talent and notoriety, it's going to put the spotlight on your program and the positive things you're doing to improve your team. Hopefully it helps some of our other guys get the credit they deserve too."
So what was the big moment like when Stephenson gave Coach Cronin the news that he was coming to Cincinnati?
"He's a quiet guy so he said 'yes' with a small crack of a smile," Mick told me. "Then Coach Stubblefield and I went home and did back flips."
I'd love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy a recent photo of the handsome lad enjoying a day at the beach.