Adam Zagoria, recruiting guru and proprietor of the excellent Zagsblog, posted a lengthy article over the weekend concerning the recruitment of Lance Stephenson. It’s an interesting read, and comes from Zagoria’s perspective as someone who operates in Stephenson’s New York stomping ground and is very familiar with the situation surrounding “Born Ready,” which is one of the most unique recruitments we have seen in some time.
It seems that, at one time or another, every school has been interested in Stephenson or vice versa. As Beisner told you a few weeks ago, one of the schools that’s gotten in the game for Stephenson’s services lately is Florida. That doesn’t seem to have changed, as Stephenson listed the Gators along with longtime suitor Maryland and presumed favorites Memphis and Arizona, although the latest Coney Island star did not identify a favorite when he and his father spoke with Zagoria.
I admit to being fascinated by Stephenson’s recruitment. I can’t remember a player whose courtship has involved so many layers or about whom more people have formed strong opinions. There is potentially serious legal trouble in the form of a pending sexual assault case, a presumed supersized ego and me-first attitude, and questions about his eligibility all keeping schools at arm’s length despite Stephenson being maybe the most talented player in the 2009 class that isn’t heading to Lexington. All the while, bloggers and writers and message board experts have labeled Stephenson as the epitome of everything that’s wrong with today’s young athletes.
With even heavy hitters like the Washington Post recently publishing articles critical of Stephenson’s recruitment, the player’s father (Lance, Sr.) believes the media, once friendly to the self-promoting superstar, has turned on his son of late. Zagoria agrees to an extent, and I confess to wondering if the kid can possibly be as bad as most people believe him to be, although the off-court issues certainly mean any school taking in Stephenson is taking on the risk of being sucked into the negative press surrounding him.
It is no surprise, then, that the schools recruiting “Born Ready” are in desperate situations, whether by early defection, a coaching change or Gary Williams’ quest to make another run before he hangs it up. If Stephenson will even end up on a college campus is still very much a question, but any campus that accepts him knows that if everything goes according to plan, he makes them a legitimate team with an NBA first-rounder. If things don’t go to plan, the schools face the chance of Lance’s legal troubles haunting them, playing an ineligible player and risking violations or, perhaps even worse, seeing their public perception crumble before their eyes as the media (if they ever stop writing about Coach Calipari) will be quick to pounce on even the smallest hint of trouble with Stephenson and tie it to the program he chooses.
In some ways, the Stephenson case is an indictment on the NBA age rule, as in years past he would have taken his game straight to the league and saved some coach a few squirming answers at a press conference. Instead, someone will sign him and have to call him “a great guy” and “the type of player we want at Fingers Crossed University” and hope history will prove them right. Until then, coaches will continue to dance tiptoed around one of the most talented players in the class in what has become an illustration of what can go so horribly wrong in the recruitment of today’s top players. Stephenson’s propensity for self-promotion served its purpose in making sure everyone knows his name, but the hype is costing him now as the name everyone knows gets dragged through the mud almost daily. We can only hope that this serves as a lesson to the next kid who wants to be a megastar before he hits college, that maybe they’ll realize that hype has diminishing returns and can do much more harm than good. I suspect that handlers and AAU coaches and the like will make sure the lesson isn’t learned, unfortunately.
Now you can call me crazy, and you wouldn’t be the first, but I want “Born Ready” in Gainesville. Knowing that the Wall-Stephenson matchups would be two of the most talked about of the year, that it will deflect a little negative press from the Cats, and that it could lead to everything crashing around Billy Donovan’s feet in the end is too much for me to hope he lands anywhere else. I mean, if things are going to get hairy for somebody, it might as well be somebody we can enjoy watching falter, right? Yay schadenfreude! And yes, I did just write a potentially pointless 800-word post on a kid that Kentucky isn’t even recruiting. It’s gonna be a slow week. What? You’re mad at me now? Well here…watch one of my favorite Seinfeld scenes. There there. That’s better.