Seton Hall has already faced several of the top players in this year’s Big East.
Wesley Johnson of Syracuse, Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks of West Virginia and Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson of UConn have all played — and beaten — the Pirates this season.
Now here comes Cincinnati and Lance Stephenson, the Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year who is averaging a team-best 12.5 points to go with 4.8 rebounds.
The Bearcats (11-4, 2-1 Big East) visit the Pirates (9-5, 0-3) at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Prudential Center.
“With a guy like Lance, he just doesn’t look like a freshman. He’s like a man out there. I think he’s just a difference-maker for them and he gives them another offensive weapon that they haven’t had to go with [Yancy] Gates and Deonta Vaughn,” said Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez, whose team has dropped four straight and five of six.
“Man, I don’t think he’ll be in the league long. Let’s put it that way.”
Gonzalez believes both Syracuse’s Johnson and West Virginia’s Ebanks should be lottery picks in the 2010 NBA Draft.
“Those guys are ridiculous,” he said.
While St. John’s coach Norm Roberts was heavily involved in Stephenson’s recruitment, Seton Hall (9-5, 0-3 Big East) was never really a factor in Lance’s thinking.
Still, Gonzalez watched him play in high school and now figures that the 6-foot-5 Stephenson will also have a chance to jump to the NBA after this season.
“I think Lance, if he continues the pace that he’s at, where he’s basically going to be Rookie of the Year and the numbers he’s getting and the competition he’s doing it against, knowing the whole idea that if the 19 age rule [weren’t in place] he maybe could’ve went out of high school, I gotta believe he’s one-and-done,” he said.
Lance Stephenson Sr. said his son wasn’t thinking ahead to leaving for the NBA after this season.
“We’re just taking it game-by-game,” he said. “So we’re not really thinking about nothing far in advance.”
Lance Sr. and his wife Bernadette, Stephenson’s little brother, Lantz, and his daughter, Liara, all came to the Rutgers game last week in which Stephenson scored 10 points in a 65-58 victory.
Since Cincinnati plays at Seton Hall Saturday and then against St. John’s Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, his family will get to see him up close twice in the coming days.
“Seton Hall, St. John’s, they’re going to be tough games, just like this one was, so I’m just looking forward to seeing him,” Lance Sr. said after the Rutgers game.
Stephenson has had his ups and downs already this season.
He hit two foul shots with .7 seconds left to lift the Bearcats over UConn, but then played more of a secondary role in the win over Rutgers.
“At Lincoln I used to just go,” Stephenson said. “Now I got a coach [Mick Cronin] that puts me in the spot and I got to…know when to go to the hole and when to pass it.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.