COMMENTARY | On April 9 of 2010, Cincinnati freshman guard Lance Stephenson declared himself eligible for the upcoming NBA draft after just one underwhelming season with the Bearcats.
The young Stephenson had previously been a highly touted incoming freshman, leaving his Lincoln High School in New York as the state's all-time leading scorer and handling scholarship offers from schools such as Kansas and Maryland.
In between his high school and college years, Stephenson's commitment of where he would play his college basketball was quite clouded. The senior guard delayed an official announcement multiple times. Contributing to the delay in his announcement was a pending sexual assault case against the guard following accusations that he groped a 17-year-old student outside of Lincoln High in October of 2008. According to the New York Daily News, Stephenson had gone into court on June 29, 2009, in hopes of a quick resolution, but instead had to return on July 15 for the beginning of the criminal trial.
It was the day after Stephenson's first court appearance that he signed his financial aid offer with University of Cincinnati, joining them for the 2009-10 season.
In June of 2010, Stephenson was selected 40th overall by team president Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers with their second-round selection. That August, Stephenson was arrested on charges of third-degree assault after allegedly pushing his then-girlfriend down a flight of stairs.
The Pacers chose to stick by Stephenson. The case was eventually dismissed.
On February 27, 2011, Stephenson made his NBA debut for the Pacers, scoring two points in four minutes off of the bench in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. Stephenson was demoted later that year due to what the team called "ongoing immaturity issues."
Again, the Pacers chose to stand with Stephenson. He returned to the team at the beginning of the next season.
Fast forward to the end of the 2012 season. Stephenson got his first start with the Indiana Pacers on April 25th vs. the Chicago Bulls. Stephenson recorded 22 points and was the Pacers' leading scorer in a loss to Chicago, but he's been a starter ever since.
During the 2012-13 NBA season, Stephenson became known as a "Jekyll and Hyde" player for Indiana. There were nights where we saw "good Lance," and nights where we saw "bad Lance." Stephenson averaged only 8.8 points per game, adding 3.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists. But forget the numbers, Stephenson still showed immaturity in his game. The "attack the hoop at all costs" mentality Stephenson possessed caused many turnovers and head-scratching plays for Pacers fans.
It appears, however, that patience is paying off for Bird and the Pacers' coaching staff.
Now, five games into the 2013-14 NBA regular season, the Pacers are seeing a welcomed fruition in the maturation process of Lance Stephenson. On November 5, Stephenson was called for a technical foul out of frustration following a rough stretch in the first half. "Bad Lance" in 2012 would have stayed in that funk the entire game. Rather than digress, Stephenson rose above the adversity and ended the game with a solid 10-point, six-rebound and seven-assist outing.
Identical situation in Wednesday's 97-80 victory over division "non-rival" Chicago Bulls. Stephenson shook off a first half to forget and ended the game with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists, and giving the Pacers several momentum-shifting high energy points in the fourth quarter.
This isn't to say that Stephenson is done maturing--he's still got plenty left to do. But as for Stephenson the player? He has risen to a level of play that deserves a permanent starting role on this Pacers squad, regardless of the health of Danny Granger. His high energy level of play accompanied by his smash-mouth attitude is something that Pacers fans love--and other teams hate.
And get ready, Pacers fans--it appears this squad is just getting warmed up.
Joe Tacosik is a freelance writer and part-time contributor for Bleacher Report who has grown up in and around Indiana Pacers basketball. You can read him on Bleacher Report and JoeTacosik.com.
You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeBobTaco.
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