Stephenson Closes Door On Europe

By Franklyn Calle

One of the top high school seniors in the nation, Lance Stephenson of Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York, told MSG Network in a live broadcast halftime interview at the Newark National Invitational held at the Prudential Center that he no longer looked at following Brandon Jennings’ footsteps in playing professional basketball in Europe as an option.

“I don’t think it’s a good decision to go to Europe,” Stephenson told MSG network on Saturday. “I just want to go to college and experience new things.”

This concludes a long speculation around the prep basketball world in where the buzz about Stephenson going to Europe went from being an NYC rumor only to a national topic of discussion. The Stephenson to Europe story began last summer when he and his father told basically every media outlet in the country that they were strongly considering the idea of skipping college and going to Europe for a year before declaring for the NBA draft. As the months passed and fall came the speculation only became stronger.

But things have changed quite a bit since then. The Euro no longer seems to be that powerful as it used to be back in the summer before the world-wide recession. Brandon Jennings is struggling on the floor for Lottomatica Virtus Roma while they are struggling to pay him on time. His playing minutes are not guaranteed.

Stephenson’s MSG network interview came a day after the New York Times published an article in which Jennings warned high school basketball stars about Euroball experience. “I’ve gotten paid on time once this year,” Jennings said in an e-mail message to the New York Times. “They treat me like I’m a little kid. They don’t see me as a man. If you get on a good team, you might not play a lot. Some nights you’ll play a lot; some nights you won’t play at all. That’s just how it is.” Jennings is earning $1.2 million in salary and endorsement deals but some experts say his NBA Draft stock has fallen after only averaging 8 points per game and at times not seeing many minutes as well as seeing his role diminish.

“I don’t see too many kids doing it,” Jennings continued in his e-mail message. “It’s tough man, I’ll tell you that. It can break you.”

“My role is to play D and take open shots — that’s it,” he said. “And I’ve accepted that role.”

However, he did admit that his journey has helped him mature and said that playing in Europe may benefit others.

Many analysts predicted that many would follow in Jennings’ footsteps. Sonny Vaccaro, the former sneaker executive for Adidas, Nike and Reebok, who helped make the deal with the Roman team as well as the endorsement deal with Under Armor, said back in the summer that he had been contacted by top high school prospects and their parents regarding playing in Europe.

As for Stephenson, he is considering St. John’s, Memphis, Kansas and USC. The new buzz around New York City is that he may very well be on his way to St. John’s. “I think about that a lot,” he told MSG. “I was thinking about that with my family, to bring St. John’s back, so I think that would be a good look.”

The 6-5 guard has been keeping a close eye at St. John’s progress and most recently was in attendance when the Johnnies took on UConn last week at Madison Square Garden. He was spotted hanging out outside the Red Storm’s locker room. St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts has also been in attendance to many of Lincoln’s games this season.

The idea of Stephenson playing for the Red Storm will be huge not only for the program but also for the city and the Garden. A commitment from Stephenson will bring back the historic program back on its feet. It would bring them back to their glory days. Although he would most likely only stay for one year before heading to the draft, the fact that such a big prospect attended St. John’s will move many top ranked players into once again considering the school. It would once again be a possible destination for the best players in the tri-state area. It would also benefit him because he would most likely have the ball on his hands at will. He would be the like the prince of New York City. He would be known as the one who stood home and brought the program back to its feet. He would play at the media capital of the world where every NBA scout will be in attendance for all of his games at the world’s most famous arena. I can definitely picture it becoming a reality.

For now Stephenson says he will not be making any decision on college until after his high school season while on the other side of the world Jennings will be looking to finish his season strong. But the question still remains on whether or not Jennings’ trip to Europe will become a trend or is just an isolated move.

Only time will tell.