Like most of his Indiana Pacers teammates, it looks like Lance Stephenson is ready to take the next step when training camp starts in October. The former Big East Freshman of the Year made huge strides last season for Indiana, helping them become one of the NBA's surprise teams, and as he sat courtside Thursday at Temple University’s Liacouras Center all indications are that he has had a summer focused on helping the Pacers improve even more for 2013-14.
“It’s been a fun summer, I have gotten to spend a lot of time thinking and getting ready for this coming season, and I think we are going to continue to improve as a team. I’m very excited for what’s to come,” he said as he watched the first day of the AND1 Summer Remix Streetball Tournament, a 12- team, three-day $100,000 winner-take-all event designed to help relaunch the legendary streetball brand as it more formally reenters the basketball marketplace.
Stephenson was the brand’s first signee as part of the re-launch—wearing their signature shoes last season—and he recently signed an extension to continue to be the face of AND1 in the NBA. For both parties, the partnership could not have come at a better time.
“The clothes, the shoes, the way they treat me has been nothing but first class, and I’m looking forward to growing together with AND1 in new ways over the coming year,” he added.
The Brooklyn native is also taking a unique role in the tournament, coaching a hand-picked team of Indiana streetball players under his “Born Ready” nickname. The team had a bye on Thursday and will play its first game Friday.
Is it a role he is comfortable in playing? He laughed.
“They earned their way to play here. I think they have some great skills and we will see if I can help them win,” he added. “I’m still learning as a player myself so it’s a unique role for me.”
Stephenson wasn’t the only familiar NBA face in the crowd of about 2,000 on Thursday. NBA veteran Lou Williams stopped by, and a team made up largely of Philly natives led by Hakim Warrick, Dionte Christmas and “Flip” Murray looked like the team to beat. All three appeared to be in NBA shape, looking for opportunities as free agents going into 2013-14.
Former NBA legend Shawn Kemp as well as NBA Star Stephen Jackson were also expected for day two on Friday.
But for those players, some of their brightest NBA days may be behind them. Stephenson’s best days still appear to be well ahead, as he looks to help Indiana continue to rise as a consistent force in the East when the new season begins. For now though, it looks like it's all fun for him, as he helps his sneaker brand and streetball get a solid restart in the city where And1 was founded almost 20 years ago.
“It’s a great chance for us to grow together," he added.
Jerry Milani is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.