Lance Stephenson had quite a run at Lincoln High School under legendary coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, leaving the school with a laundry list of success that included being New York state’s all-time leading scorer in high school basketball (2,946 points), with city basketball championships (four years with Lincoln), a New York State Mr. Basketball, and a McDonald’s All-American Team selection in 2009.
His path since then has been somewhat star crossed — some minor run-ins with the law, a meteoric year at the University of Cincinnati that saw him be named Big East Rookie of the Year, a 40th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft followed by a slow start to his career. But Stephenson, at just 22, has blossomed into a mature-for-his-age, quiet, lead-by-example cog in the Pacers lineup which rocketed to the NBA East Finals this year, and put a scare in the Miami Heat before exiting.
That rise through all the challenges, reflective of his nickname “Born Ready,” will get another worthy shout-out this weekend, when the Railsplitters retire his uniform number 1 at the Coney Island school as part of their annual alumni ceremony. Stephon Marbury, Sebastien Telfair and others have led to a storied history for the Coney Island school, but for the long term, few may have as bright a future as Stephenson, who, with help from mentor Larry Bird of all people, became a lockdown defender and inside out offensive threat in Frank Vogel’s system this year.
Stephenson gives all the credit in his development to his coaches and mentors, including Morton, who helped shape his young career in the PSAL. “I owe a great deal to Coach, he taught me the game and I wouldn’t be where I am without what I learned from him in high school,” Stephenson said.
His growth as a player and as a person hit new heights this past year, as he expanded his influence off the court with a series of programs both in New York and in Indianapolis assisting young people, a program he hopes to extend to Coney Island next year as well. He also got a great boost from the relaunched streetball brand AND1, which selected him as their first NBA endorser which is bringing the brand top of mind amongst a core audience that loved the shoes, its irreverent teeshirts and its legendary Mixed Tape Tour during the brand’s heyday.
Stephenson is a central part of the marketing of the new unified AND1 brand and will be assisting in its search for new streetball talent later this summer when they relaunch the Tour in Philadelphia Labor Day weekend.
“AND1 has been great to me, they were there when no one was, and the products they will be launching will be loved again by basketball players of all ages. I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said.
For now, Stephenson is happy to continue to refine his game, spend time with kids and with his family both in New York and his new adopted home of Indianapolis as he readies for the fall. One that will be full of challenges as the Pacers look to continue to push the other NBA elite clubs for eastern supremacy.
But one place that Stephenson has already established all his creds is in one of the Meccas of hoops, his hometown of Brooklyn, where he will be feted this Saturday like few before him. An honor well worthwhile for one of Brooklyn’s finest.