Lance Stephenson was supposed to let us know where he's going to play college ball this week, but he postponed his decision before Wednesday's McDonald's All-American Game. That may be a good thing, because Stephenson may never have it quite this good again. New York City schoolboy stars have found it tough going in college and the pros in recent years.
Why New York has stopped churning out stars is the focus of a probing article from Jason Zengerle of The New Republic. Zengerle spoke to a who's who of the city hoop scene and received many answers for why players aren't reaching the heights that they once did.
Too many high schools diluting the talent, the advent of basketball focused prep schools and the rise of AAU basketball all get their moment in the sun, but the overriding belief is that the hype machine creates players who can't live up to advance billing. A local coach tells of seeing B-level players rolling around with entourages, and the stories of families and hangers-on relying on teenage players are familiar to anyone who has seen "Hoop Dreams."
Tom Konchalski, a renowned scout of high school talent, uses the story of Michael Jordan to illustrate his point.
"Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn," he said, "but, if he hadn't moved to North Carolina when he was a little boy, he wouldn't have been Michael Jordan. If he'd stayed in New York, he would have been spoiled, he would have lost his hunger, he would have become complacent. And he would have had to have been a celebrity, he would have had to have been Michael Jackson in addition to Michael Jordan. He would have become a performance artist, and he would have cared a lot less."
Stephenson's story offers compelling evidence of that scenario. He's still a top prospect, but hasn't developed as much as hoped on the court while his profile has skyrocketed off of it. The city still produces productive players, see Levance Fields of Pitt and Kemba Walker of UConn in this year's tournament, so it may just be a case of setting an impossibly high bar.
That's a little different from hype, which didn't crush LeBron James or Kobe Bryant before they ascended to the levels. Each of those players was allowed to develop his own story, wheras Stephenson, Felipe Lopez and others have been forced into a role as the carriers of New York's legacy. All players aren't created equal, no matter what the voices in their head tell them.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.