The big question surrounding St. John's basketball is not the question of whether Norm Roberts will be relieved of his head coaching duties.
The powers that speak have been silent on that front, and have given some version of the vote of confidence. The kind of vote that makes the head coach and outside observers feel that Norm gets another year at the helm piloting the St. John's Red Storm.
The big, immediate question involves the mercurial collegiate decisions of top rated baller Lance Stephenson, he of Born Ready TV, 4 PSAL titles in a row, Boost Mobile Elite 24 streetball highlights, and many other highlight reels.
The last 5 years have featured regular Lance Stephenson articles, speculation, admiration, and hateration. He is linked to the line of Lincoln High School ballers from Stephon Marbury to Sebastian Telfair; he is friends with rapper Jay-Z; such is the life of a Brooklyn King, as they say.
The negatives to Lance and the competition, below the fold.
You may also know about his sexual assault/ groping charge (whatever happened to that?), his getting kicked off of the U18 US National Basketball team by Bob McKillop, and the Maryland visit that Under Armour was a little too involved in.
Such is the life of a Brooklyn King... under scrutiny. So very talented, so much to learn. According to the rules, Lance has to spend an apprentice year in college before he goes professional; he, and many others, think the scoring guard will only spend one year in an institute of higher learning.
But Lance Stephenson still isn't committed to a college. The 6'6", 210 lb (but probably bigger than that) shooting guard/ point guard/ forward/ offensive Weapon L has changed his announcement date from April 15th... to the date of the PSAL championship back on March 21 (which Lincoln won; nice recap from Slam mag)... to before the McDonald's All-American game on March 31st.
Stephenson says his current college choices are Kansas, Maryland, and St. John's (check out a profile on him from the Maryland blog Testudo Times).
He's powerful and can probably score very well against college defenses, even if he isn't in a real offensive system. His one on one moves are dominant, and playing with very little talent around him, he has won the city basketball title for all of his high school years. That is dominance.
There is much speculation about the change in dates. If he wanted to stay in New York, he would have announced at the Garden, right? That's what people have been saying. And that the change of date and venue, and the quote about "I just want to have a chance to win the tournament, so I’m picking by that" would have one believe that Kansas is his choice. The New York Daily News and Zagsblog think "Kansas," and other articles have talked about the high possibility. Kansas fans are obviously geeked about it, and rightfully so; the scuttlebutt is all about Lance announcing Kansas.
But Maryland fans think they're still in it; and St. John's needs Stephenson more than the other two teams to become respectable. Lance would be the highlight of the team, would get to be a hero (as he was in high school), and would be part of a great rebuilding story in the most media saturated city in the United States.
But the elephant that seems to have taken a nap in the room is the Europe option. Rumors swirled about whether he would be eligible to play in college. The Daily News article indicates that Stephenson has taken his SATs and should be academically eligible; and furthermore, European interest is tempered by questions about his ability to handle living in another country. Still, the Europe option is on the table.
It seems that Lance is out of reach of St. John's, and the fans on the message boards are resigned to that. The fans have gotten their hopes up over other prospects, only to see them go to schools like Connecticut, West Virginia, and Virginia. There's only so much hope to go around for the fans, only so much faith that the best local product of 2009 will be convinced that St. John's is the place to learn the college game and get ready for the 82-game NBA season.
But no one really knows Lance's final decision. There is hope.
For St. John's, bringing Lance in would let people know that not only can the current staff bring city talent to play at the city school; but that St. John's still has players out there who want to see their people in the stands, want to play in front of friends and family. Who still want to rep the city. Who want the basketball hotbed of NYC to have that high profile.
For Lance, surrounded by talent, a powerful guard can will his team deep into the tournament like Stephen Curry did last year, like Derrick Rose did last year, and like Tyreke Evans is doing this year. Doing that - and being part of the rebuild of St. John's - is not something unfamiliar to Lance. He can take the team on his back to the NCAA Tournament (with a cast around him that is probably better than they played this past season) and it would be the stuff of legend. It would be heavily covered.
New York is still the big stage. The place to prove you can make it anywhere. And the fans are hungry for a winner. Salivating at filling the Garden to see Lance put a whipping on Villanova, U Conn, Pittsburgh. Does that have cachet to Stephenson, or does he prefer to be part of a team with stars and competition for time like Kansas? Or does he want to stay with his teammate James Padgett and play with a tough, but at times outmanned Terrapin team (who I love to watch, just saying - they need more talent)?
Stephenson is 18 years old and "has decided already," which might just mean he has a leaning and won't reveal it. Or likes the drama of the national stage. Or that he hasn't really decided, but loves the attention.
We'll know on Tuesday late morning.