Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
St. John’s recruited Lance Stephenson as hard as it could for several years, dreaming that the Coney Island native would someday light up the Madison Square Garden scoreboard and the New York fans in the process.
But now, barring a dramatic turn of events, Stephenson will never play for the Red Storm.
“We are totally out. Not pursuing [him] anymore,” a source within the St. John’s program said.
Johnnies head coach Norm Roberts and assistant Fred Quartlebaum attended many of Stephenson’s Lincoln High School games, visited the family for in-home visits and recently had “Born Ready” on campus for an official visit.
Stephenson always played well at the Garden, winning four straight PSAL city titles there and saying he could help make St. John’s significantly better.
Yet Stephenson ultimately ruled out St. John’s and Maryland, according to sources.
Perhaps he simply doesn’t want to stay home for college. Perhaps he wants to go to a program that’s an established winner.
All understandable reasons, to be sure.
Now the Johnnies have ruled out Lance.
Where Stephenson, the all-time leading scorer in New York State history and a McDonald’s All-American, ends up is anybody’s guess.
He was set to announce for Kansas on March 31 at the McDonald’s All-American Game but held off. When the Jayhawks landed shooting guard Xavier Henry, Stephenson became expendable.
Memphis and Arizona appear to be the leading candidates now, but Stephenson has not visited either campus. The late signing period ends May 20.
“I think by the end of the week they’ll make up their mind between Arizona and Memphis,” a source said earlier this week.
As for St. John’s, Roberts and his staff will likely take some heat for failing to keep another New York City star at home. A year ago, Sylven Landesberg of Queens Holy Cross left the city for Virginia after keeping St. John’s and Georgia Tech on his final list.
Other New York-area stars — Kevin Parrom (Arizona), Durand Scott (Miami) and James Padgett (Maryland) in the Class of 2009, Truck Bryant, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones (all of whom went to West Virginia) in the Class of 2008 — have also gone elsewhere in the last two years.
“Sometimes you have the city kids say, ‘I’m sick of living in the city, I want to go somewhere else.’ And that’s what happens,” Roberts said last fall. “What we’ve got to do, is get the guys that are the best, the guys that want to stay home, that want to be here and make them as good as they can possibly be.”
St. John’s did land Omari Lawrence of South Kent (Conn.) and Long Island native Malik Stith to next year’s team.
With the addition of those players and shooting guard Dwight Hardy to a core that includes Anthony Mason, Jr., Paris Horne, Malik Boothe and D.J. Kennedy, St. John’s could make strides in what will be a weaker Big East.
“With the players they have coming back and me and Omari coming in, that’s what St. John’s needed to get back over the hump and be in the race for the conference championship,” Stith said.
“I like my team right now,” Roberts added.
Unfortunately for Johnnies fans, that team won’t include Lance Stephenson.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.