NEW YORK -- At long last, the Lance Stephenson sweepstakes is over, and the talented Lincoln High School player is headed to Cincinnati of the Big East.
The story was first reported by SNY.tv on Tuesday morning and confirmed later Tuesday by a press release from the Cincinnati athletic department.
"We are very excited about Lance's decision to become a Bearcat," head coach Mick Cronin said. "Lance has terrific talent as a basketball player and is also a fierce competitor on the court. His desire to win will help us compete for a Big East Championship.
"As a big guard, Lance brings playmaking ability and versatility to our team, along with his talent for scoring. We look forward to getting Lance here for summer school and building our team for the upcoming season."
New York-area fans should be able to catch Stephenson when the Bearcats play at Rutgers and at Seton Hall next season, although the official conference schedule is not yet released.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Stephenson is the No. 4 shooting guard in the Class of 2009, according to Rivals.com. He joins the Bearcats after a highly-decorated prep career at Lincoln, where he averaged 28.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists to earn Class AA New York State Sports Writers Association (NYSSWA) Player of the Year honors his senior year.
Selected to play in the 2009 McDonald's All-American Game, Stephenson finished his high school career with 12 points, six assists and three steals as his East squad knocked off the West, 113-110, in the annual high school all-star showcase.
He graduated high school as the all-time leading scorer in the history of the state of New York with 2,946 points, passing fellow Lincoln High grad Sebastian Telfair, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft and now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Neither Stephenson nor his father, Lance Stephenson Sr., were immediately available for comment.
Cincinnati has come out of nowhere in this recruiting process, and it took the coaching staff some time to connect with the family.
Stephenson had previously taken official visits to Kansas, Maryland and St. John's, and at various times, each of those programs seemed likely to land him. Stephenson was poised to announce for Kansas on March 31 before the McDonald's All-American Game, only to hold off at the last minute.
Kansas subsequently landed Oklahoma wing Xavier Henry, who took the school's last available scholarship. Ironically, Henry's father says Xavier may now leave Kansas for Kentucky.
On Monday, the sexual assault case involving Lance Jr. was adjourned until July 15. Stephenson and Brooklyn Lincoln High School teammate Darwin Ellis are alleged to have groped a 17-year-old girl outside the high school last October.
If convicted of the Class B misdemeanor, Stephenson could face six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A source close to the Cincinnati program said the charge was "just a misdemeanor" and that the school was not overly concerned.
"He's going to bring a guy who can score," said New York recruiting expert Tom Konchalski, who has known Stephenson since the guard was in the fourth grade. "He's obviously a significant recruit for Cincinnati. A lot of people thought no school would really touch him until the resolution of the court case. I don't think that's the case.
"If he's guilty of this, that's obviously inappropriate behavior and serious. I don't think anyone expects there are going to be legal consequences where he goes to jail.
"Because of this there are going to be schools that wanted him pending the resolution of this case. It's obviously a significant recruit for Cincinnati. Just the noise that makes, the symbolic value that they get a guy who's one of the top 10 guys in the class.
"He's a a guy who was a year ago considered maybe the best player in the class. That's a big recruit for them. He's a guy who when he comes in there and assuming he's going to be eligible, he can really score."
Cincinnati, which finished 18-14, 8-10 in the Big East, returns a solid core that could propel it to the upper echelon of the Big East. Junior guard Deonta Vaughn, who averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 assists per game, became the first Cincinnati basketball player to earn back-to-back all-Big East honors. Freshman Yancy Gates was named to the 2008-09 Big East All-Rookie team.
Stephenson joins fellow incoming freshmen Sean Kilpatrick of White Plains, N.Y. and Jaquon Parker.
Also joining the first-year newcomers will be Ibrahima Thomas and Eddie Tyree, who both sat out last year after transferring. Redshirt freshman Cashmere Wright, a nationally-ranked point guard, rounds out the five incoming players after missing last season with a knee injury.
"It's not as if he is going to be the only player in the program," Konchalski said of Stephenson. "But it's a significant recruit for them."
Cronin recently received a two-year contract extension.
"I just want somebody who can push me and make me a better player," Stephenson said earlier this year.
Stephenson is likely to spend just one year on campus before heading to the NBA.
Chris Monter of the Monter Draft News said Stephenson would likely have been a "late lottery" pick in the 2009 NBA Draft had he been eligible.
But because of the NBA age limit, Stephenson must spend at least one year in college before going pro.
"Of course," he said earlier this year. "That's what I'm playing hard for. That's one of my goals. If I make it to the NBA, that's going to change my whole life around."