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.
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“Born Ready” apparently isn’t ready for the NBA just yet.
During his storied career at Lincoln High School, Lance Stephenson, nicknamed “Born Ready,” enjoyed some of his brightest moments under the lights at Madison Square Garden.
The all-time leading scorer in New York State history, Stephenson led Lincoln to four Public Schools Athletic League titles in the famed arena.
But when the 6-foot-5 Stephenson returns to the Garden Sunday as an Indiana Pacers rookie, he’ll likely be sitting on the end of the bench in a suit as his teammates battle the Knicks (18-14).
“It’s exciting going back home, but I’m just trying to work hard and get better every day,” Stephenson said Friday after the Pacers fell to the Wizards, 104-90.
Despite being picked 40th in last year’s NBA Draft, Stephenson has remained inactive for all 30 of Indiana’s games.
“If I thought we could be better if I played Lance, I would,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said Friday, according to NBA.com. “That’s not my opinion.”
After initially saying he would remain in college for a second season, Stephenson changed his mind and came out after being named Big East Rookie of the Year at Cincinnati, a story first reported by SNY.tv.
“I think he would’ve been better served to have come back [to college] for another year,” New York recruiting expert Tom Konchalski said. “He would have been better prepared. Almost every kid in America, they think it’s a sprint, get to the NBA as quickly as possible, almost as if going to college is a sentence in purgatory.”
After falling to the second round of the draft, Stephenson signed a two-year guaranteed deal with the Pacers.
“It’s frustrating now and then, but I’m just trying to stay focused and trying to stay humble,” Stephenson said. “I’m trying to approach practice like it’s a game.”
Stephenson has battled off-court issues, too.
He was arrested last August for allegedly pushing his daughter’s mother, Jasmine Williams, down a flight of stairs and then banging her head on the steps. The court date was pushed back to Feb. 25.
Pacers president Larry Bird wasn’t happy about the situation, and has also indicated that Stephenson could be shipped to the NBA D-League later this season.
“Not right now, because I think he needs to be here,” Bird said earlier this month, according to the Indianapolis Star. “But you never know, later on in the season we might send him there to get some time.”
In the meantime, Stephenson remains a practice player.
“We do a lot of stuff in practice that he needs to learn,” Bird told the Indy Star. “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.”
Stephenson’s only chance of playing would seem to be if he beats out someone ahead of him, or the team suffers a rash of injuries.
So “Born Ready” will return to the Garden not as a conquering hero, but as a young man still waiting for his NBA debut.
“I’m just trying to learn as much as possible from the veterans, the other guys on the court,’ he said. “I’m trying to play hard and trying to learn and get better, so when I do get a chance, it will come easy.”
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.