Beaver guard hits radar
- Jason Vondersmith
- Portland Tribune - Sports
• Chris Stephens turns walk-on chance into a wow
The big names go to Kansas, Missouri, Arizona and Oregon.
In the pantheon of recent Portland prep guards, Chris Stephens' name usually follows that of Aaron Miles and Michael Lee at Kansas, Thomas Gardner at Missouri, Salim Stoudamire and Chris Rodgers at Arizona, and Brandon Lincoln at Oregon.
But none of those guys has played better, more consistently, this year than Stephens.
Entering Saturday's Civil War game at Corvallis, Stephens had scored 15 or more points in nine consecutive games, the longest streak at Oregon State since Gary Payton went 17 games with 15-plus points in 1990.
The unheralded sophomore guard from Madison High leads the Beavers in scoring at 15.8 points per game.
'He's just scratching the surface,' OSU coach Jay John says. 'There's so much more he can do to evolve into a complete player.'
Stephens played in all 28 games last year, averaging about 10 minutes per game. He has started 10 of 12 games this year for the Beavers (6-6), playing about 33 minutes each game, and he has reached double figures in all but two. He had a career-high 23 points against Kansas State.
Stephens hasn't surprised himself.
'No, every player has that confidence, or should have the confidence if, given the opportunity, they can shine,' he says. 'I knew if coach John gave me the chance, I could shine. And it doesn't stop here.'
Stephens scores primarily because John lets him score. With the departure of Jimmie Haywood, the Beavers needed somebody to shoot the ball from the outside. Stephens obliged and seems to be the perfect complement to pass-first point guard Lamar Hurd.
Stephens gets many shots off screens or transitions. Often, he just camps at the 3-point line. Although he leads the Beavers in 3-pointers attempted (83) and made (23), his percentages need to improve Ñ he is .337 on 3's and .394 overall. He has hit 31 of 35 free-throws (.886).
'This is really the first year shooting the ball like this, and I'm playing about 33 minutes a game,' he says. 'My legs have to get used to the running and shooting.'
John says Stephens takes shots under control but sometimes gets caught against bigger defenders.
'Against guys tall and taller, or as quick, he needs screens to help,' John says. 'The players at USC (last weekend) kept flying at him from different angles, not going to let him shoot.
'That's stuff he hasn't seen. We've talked to Chris about needing some shot fakes. He has to understand that he's 6-1 and change, and he's getting in too deep sometimes and big guys are coming at him. He needs to read things quicker. With better understanding and ability to read defenses, his field-goal percentage should go up. It will go up.'
But it's a compliment that defenses have taken notice of Stephens.
'We play fast'
Stephens' defense and rebounding have been a mixed bag.
'His on-ball defense has been good. Off the ball, things still go fast for him,' John says. 'If he uses his quickness, it could lead to more steals. But he gets screened off too much and -doesn't anticipate plays as well. And he's never been coached to be a defensive rebounder.'
The Beavers hope Stephens and Hurd can lead them to the Promised Land: a winning record, which hasn't been achieved since 1990, Payton's senior year. Stephens and Hurd, from Houston, have lived together for two years.
'We have that connection,' Stephens says. 'He knows where I'm at on the court. He gets me a lot of shots. He's content, doesn't look to shoot even though the coaching staff tells him to shoot more.'
John lets the senior-less Beavers play fast-pace basketball.
'He's a great coach,' Stephens says. 'He lets us do our thing, basically, but he disciplines us. We're a young team, and no team Ñ especially a young one Ñ wants to walk the ball up the floor. So we play fast. It's fun.'
After a stellar career at Madison, Stephens says Montana State and Nevada recruited him, and he nearly committed to Montana State. But he changed his mind and planned to attend Chemeketa Community College while waiting for another offer. When John replaced Ritchie McKay as OSU coach, he went searching for local talent.
Chance opens a door
Stephens played some pickup games with Beaver players, who encouraged the coaching staff to sign him. Assistant coach Brian Loyd gave Stephens the chance to walk on for one year, and then be offered a scholarship. When recruit Justin Holt backed out of his scholarship, Stephens had his full-ride early.
It was hardly the courtship top players -eceive. Many Division I schools coveted Miles, Lee, Gardner, Stoudamire, Rodgers and Lincoln Ñ all players Stephens grew up playing against. He and Brandon Lincoln and Lincoln's cousin, Curtis Lincoln, lived in the same neighborhood and played on the same youth teams.
It doesn't bother Stephens to be overshadowed.
'My purpose wasn't to come out and look for the spotlight,' he says. 'I knew it was going to be my time to shine sooner or later. I just kept working hard. Now is my time.'
Stephens didn't consider transferring to Jefferson to play alongside some of his buddies, either. Instead, he remained loyal to Madison coach Chuck Matthews, who assembled some talent to make the Senators' first run to the state playoffs in years.
Stephens and Chris Botez, a former Senator center playing at Chemeketa, stay in touch. They could even end up on the same team again. Stephens says the -6-11 Botez has been recruited by many schools Ñ such as OSU, Hawaii and DePaul Ñ and 'I think he's leaning toward Hawaii.'
Stephens has several career goals. He wants to help OSU gets its winning record. He wants to be an all-Pacific-10 Conference player. And he wants to play professionally.
But, most important, 'I want to get my degree,' he says.