*Mar 21 - 00:05*

The University of Cincinnati’s basketball program has been wandering in the wilderness ever since former head coach Bob Huggins was dismissed in August of 2005 after a year-long battle with then UC president Nancy Zimpher.  Huggins had returned the Bearcats to prominence, leading Cincinnati to the Final Four in 2002, the first of 14 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament under Huggins watch.

But since Huggins’ ouster, the Bearcats have not been to the NCAA tournament.  Mick Cronin took over the program in 2007, and the Bearcats have been respectable under his watch.  But UC fans expect greatness from their charges, not mere competitiveness, and while Cronin and the Bearcats have struggled, Huggins has re-emerged as the coach of Big East rival West Virginia, taking the Mountaineers into the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons.  Cincinnati needed to make a splash in recruiting in order to catapult themselves back to relevance, not only in the Big East, but nationally.

Enter Lance Stephenson, the highly-touted yet controversial guard from Coney Island’s famed Lincoln High School (Sebastian Telfair, Stephon Marbury and Jesus Shuttlesworth are all Lincoln alums.) Stephenson was one of the most sought after players in the country entering his senior season, but questions arose as to his eligibility to play at the collegiate level.  Most of the questions surrounded whether his amateur status had been compromised by an MTV2 documentary series called Born Ready (Stephenson’s nickname), which chronicled his life in Coney Island, and whether he had received improper benefits by going on a few unofficial college visits.  Powerhouses like Kansas and Maryland backed off of recruiting Stephenson, as did hometown school St. John’s, fearing that the signing of the 6-5 guard would trigger an NCAA investigation not only into his eligibility but also into the program that had signed him.  Stephenson was without a school until July of this year, when Cincinnati inked the high school phenom to a scholarship.  (more…)