12/22/2009 10:11 AM ET
Stephenson has a believer in Telfair
Cincinnati freshman can follow fellow Lincoln product
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
"I'm sure he can play in this league," Sebastian Telfair said of Lance Stephenson, who also went to Lincoln High School. (AP)

NEW YORK -- Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson have known each other since childhood.

They both come from the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. They both starred under Dwayne Morton at Lincoln High School. And both became the all-time scoring leaders in New York State history, with Stephenson ultimately breaking Telfair's record last season.

"He grew up three blocks from me, so I watched him play when he was playing in Pee Wee leagues, so I've known him my whole life," the 6-foot, 175-pound Telfair said last Friday before his Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

"We played against each other a lot in our neighborhood parks and stuff like that. It was always obvious that he was going to be one of those guys that could play in the pros. You know he had a bright future with basketball."

Stephenson hopes to follow Telfair into the NBA at some point, whether it is after his freshman season at Cincinnati or later.

"I could see me playing," the 6-5 Stephenson said Monday during a conference call. "I work out with Sebastian a lot, and I see all the plays that he makes. I could make the same kind of plays."

Stephenson currently leads the No. 25 Bearcats (7-3) in scoring at 13 points per game. He scored 19 on 7-for-11 shooting during Saturday's victory over Lipscomb and had a career-high 22 in an overtime loss to Xavier Dec. 13.

The rap on Stephenson has always been that he can be a so-called ball-stopper who does not pass to teammates. Davidson coach Bob McKillop cut him from the United States' under-18 national team in the summer of 2008 because he said Stephenson didn't fit into the team mentality.

That history has NBA scouts a little wary of him.

"He's been playing better lately," one NBA scout said. Referring to Mick Cronin, he added, "I'm a bit wary of his reputation. He's got to prove playing for Mick at Cincinnati that he's willing to buy in and the circus is behind him."

Stephenson had to wait until Nov. 5 to be cleared by the NCAA, which was investigating his amateur status. He was the star of an Internet reality series during high school and also appeared in another documentary film.

Now that he's away from New York, Stephenson seems to be adjusting smoothly. He said his favorite class is English and that his fellow students treat him like a regular guy

"They don't treat me no different than I was in New York," he said. "Everybody knows me but they don't come up to me, 'Oh, that's Lance.' They just keep me grounded."

In his first game, he shot 2-for-10 for seven points in Cincinnati's season-opening come-from-behind 69-62 victory over Prairie View A&M.

"He was a nervous wreck," Cronin said. "He'll get better. I have to make sure he isn't putting too much pressure on himself."

Stephenson led Lincoln to four straight PSAL championships and became the state's all-time leading scorer largely by overpowering smaller defenders and imposing his will as the team's best player.

Now he is playing alongside two potential future NBA players in senior guard Deonta Vaughn and sophomore forward Yancy Gates.

Still, he has taken 20 more shots than Vaughn, the team's leading scorer a year ago, and 30 more shots than Gates.

He is still learning to include his teammates in the offense.

"It's taught me to get my teammates involved, not just take the first shot" Stephenson said. "Kust pass it around and get a good shot.

Cronin took a chance on Stephenson, who initially seemed headed to Kansas until Xavier Henry chose the Jayhawks. The Cincinnati coach has repeatedly said he likes the New York City toughness that Stephenson brings to the team, which was picked to finish seventh in the Big East.

"It's real, it's tangible," Cronin said this summer. "The confidence level, the toughness level, the love for the game, the expectation of winning, whatever it takes to win.

"And the daily competitiveness, whether it's pickup games, drills, shooting, running, weight room, whatever it may be. The pride factor that a guy like Lance brings to the table wanting to win. He didn't come here to finish in the middle of the pack. He wants to impact winning while he's here."

Telfair knows about Stephenson's reputation, too.

"A lot of times you are where you come from," Telfair said. "No matter what the rap is, we are kids that are coming from nothing going to get an opportunity to take care of our families for the rest of our life. The rap, it is what it is. It's what he does with it. It's not what the rap is. If he comes in and does the right things, then there's no rap."

Someday soon, Telfair expects to see his old Brooklyn friend in the NBA.

"I'm sure he can play in this league," Telfair said. "I don't when it will be, but one day he will play in this league."

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
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