Pacers’ Stephenson Still Confident In His Abilities

Published on: 2nd January, 2011

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New York — Lance Stephenson has been a basketball legend of sorts since he was 14-years old, growing up in that basketball hotbed of Coney Island, Brooklyn. Nicknamed “Born Ready” when he entered Abraham Lincoln High School, Stephenson rarely was faced with challenges on the basketball court that he wasn’t capable of overcoming, if not dominating.

He led his Lincoln team to multiple state championships, became New York State’s all-time leading scorer, and his high school coach, Tiny Morton, was even moved to say that of all the great players he had coached at the school which included NBA players Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, the 6’5″, 220 pound Stephenson was the best he’d had.

It was heady stuff for a teenager but here he is today, a 20-year old, getting paid to play the game he was “born ready” to play. Stephenson was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in the middle of the second round out of college, where he did his one and done at the University of Cincinnati, averaging just under 12 points per game en route to being named the Big East Freshman of the Year in 2009. Except, Born Ready has been deemed, Not Ready, by his current coach, Jim O’Brien. Stephenson, through the first third of his first season in the NBA, has not suited up for even one game, yet.

The Pacers believed in his talent so strongly that they signed him to a $1.7 million dollar four year contract, the first two years guaranteed with a team option on the second two years.  Larry Bird, the Pacers team president, felt he was getting, in Stephenson, a high first round talent with his second round pick but feels Stephenson needs to work on aspects of his game to make Born Ready, NBA Ready.

“We do a lot of stuff in practice every day that he needs to learn,” Bird said. “Jimmy stays on him pretty tough. I’m very high on the kid. I want him to be part of the team whether he’s dressing or not.”

So, Stephenson remains firmly rooted to the Pacers bench, trying to gain the confidence of his coach.

“If I thought we could be better if I played Lance, I would,” said O’Brien. “That’s not yet my opinion. We have four guards in front of Lance and until he’s ready, he’ll just need to keep working on his game.”

Stephenson told me tonight, after the Pacers loss to the Knicks, 98-92 at Madison Square Garden how all that practice time has made him a better player.

“I’m the best I’ve ever been, basketball-wise,” Stephenson said. “I’m working hard and trying to improve in all the areas I need to so that I can help this team.”

The word on Stephenson is that he is exhibiting all the offensive skills Bird felt he possessed when he was drafted but remains an unpolished player on the defensive end of the floor.

“I do need to improve my defense a lot,” he said. “I’m still struggling with fighting through picks and reading plays but offensively, I feel I can score against anyone in the league.”

Pacers beat reporter, Mike Wells, who watches all the Pacers practices, confirmed Stephenson’s self-assessment.

“Lance can score from anywhere and against anyone on the Pacers roster,” Wells said. “His mid-range shot is almost automatic and his long-range three-point shot is improving. He can drive and slash against anyone and get to the hoop at will.”

So what is keeping O’Brien from playing Stephenson now if he can score with ease?

“His maturity is still very much in question,” said Wells. “He is only 20-years old but I think O’Brien needs to see Lance just level out his game and become a little more consistent and reliable, both offensively and defensively and, off the court, as well.”

“I have no doubt Stephenson will be a starting guard in this league,” Wells added.

The kid who was born ready has discovered just how difficult it is to be ready for an NBA career but he’s supremely confident.

“I”ll be an impact player in this league,” he told me. “It’s coming and it’s coming soon.”

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