Commentary

Brooklyn star is headed to Indianapolis

Passed over by his hometown Knicks, Stephenson is going to work for Larry Bird

Updated: June 25, 2010, 12:47 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Near the corner of 46th and Eighth Avenue, Lance Stephenson and his father embraced each other as tears flowed from both men.

The New York high school basketball phenom had accomplished his dream of making it to the NBA when the Indiana Pacers selected him 40th overall in the second round. Stephenson may not have been a first-round pick and he was passed over by his hometown team -- the New York Knicks. Still, the Brooklyn swingman is now an Indiana Pacer and Larry Bird is his new boss.

Stephenson was overcome with all kinds of emotions ranging from joy to relief.

"This is a night I've dreamed of since I was a little boy and I got my family here to support me," said Stephenson, who was surrounded by about 60 friends and family members as his draft party at the Paramount Hotel moved out to the sidewalk in front. "I am just happy. This day came fast. There is a lot of relief. I've wanted to be in the NBA since I was a little boy. I'm very motivated. Can't even explain how motivated I am."

[+] EnlargeLance Stephenson
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesStephenson didn't go as high as he wanted, but he did land in a good spot with the Pacers.

Stephenson had to wait longer than he had hoped for before hearing his name called. Even before he became New York's all-time high school leading scorer while at famed Lincoln High School, Stephenson had heard so many predict he would someday become a first-round pick. While he didn't fulfill that prophecy, Stephenson is thrilled to be going to Indiana and playing alongside prolific scorer Danny Granger.

"It is great to have Indiana pick me up," said Stephenson, who worked out for 10 teams including Indiana. "I think I fit in great. Danny Granger is a great player and they got players that are good so I am going to try and fit in and try to be a team player."

Certainly his friends and family members and most New Yorkers had to be hoping the Knicks would pick the hometown product with either the 38th or 39th selection they owned in the second round. But the Knicks took Syracuse shooter Andy Rautins and Stanford forward Landry Fields.

Fortunately, Stephenson didn't have to wait much longer as Bird took him with the next pick. Stephenson said he was not upset that the Knicks didn't take him and that he was not disappointed to slip out of the first round.

"I thought they (the Knicks) were going to pick me but I am just happy the Pacers picked me," Stephenson said. "I am going to try to be on the team and try to be a better player and try to fit in with the program.

Lance Sr., his father, couldn't stop tears from flowing from his red and moist eyes.

"I just wanted to hear his name called," the overjoyed father said. "Indiana, a basketball state ... I'm happy. I hope that no trades go down and he stays there."

Stephenson led Lincoln High to four consecutive PSAL AA state championships. Touted to be the next big New York City basketball product to follow in Stephon Marbury's and Sebastian Telfair's footsteps, Stephenson struggled to live up to enormous expectations. He was charged with sexual abuse for allegedly groping a girl at a bus stop near Lincoln during his senior year. Charges were dismissed and he pleaded down to disorderly conduct.

At Cincinnati, Stephenson worked to try to change his image. He earned Big East Rookie of the year honors after averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds but shot just 21.9% from beyond the three-point arc.

"All I know is he worked his butt off and he really wanted this," said Lance Sr. "Just played the games and played hard and all the hype and everything just came to him. It wasn't pre-made up. It just came to him. He's from New York but we are just so happy somebody believed in us."

Stephenson, 19, may not be a Knick but he is in the NBA. And he is highly motivated to prove several NBA teams that they were wrong to pass him over.

"Everything happens for a reason," said Al Ebanks, Stephenson's agent. "I liked Indiana since Day One. I thought it would be a perfect fit for him. There is a lot to be said about being a hometown guy playing for the hometown team. But everything worked out."

"(But) a lot of people are going to see him work extra hard to show that he belongs there. I don't think he needed any additional motivation but this certainly is something that lights a fire under him. He has a lot to prove."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
Follow him on Twitter »  Ohm's chat archive »

EDITORS' PICKS