Bryshon Bryant is a Work Horse

Northern Oklahoma College Enid’s 92-82 victory at Western Oklahoma on Monday was Bryson Bryant’s type of basketball.

The sophomore forward was doing the dirty work inside in a 15-point effort going seven of eight from the field, one of one from the line with five rebounds — three offensive and two defensive.

“He really played well,’’ said Jets head coach Greg Shamburg. “He played with a lot of energy. He’s getting his energy back the second half of the season. He is rebounding well and being more active. He knows he’s close to being done here and he’s refocusing a bit and doing a good job.’’

Bryant came out more focused and determined after the Jets (10-8 overall and 3-5 in the OCAC) had lost three straight.

“I just feel like we have to apply what we do in practice day,’’ Bryant said. “We work hard in practice and it just shows in the game. I’m just playing more aggressive and attacking the basket when I get the ball. I really worked hard over the break and I’m just coming back and getting a lot better.’’

Bryant’s numbers are up from his freshman year when he was a part-time starter on the first Jets team to reach the national tournament.

He is averaging 7.4 points compared to 3.1 as a freshman. He is averaging 6.3 rebounds to 2.8 last season. He is shooting 56.7 percent from the field compared to 45.5.

“The game is coming a little easier to me,’’ he said. “I’m getting adjusted to the pace better. I just plan on going after every loose ball, every rebound and attacking the glass and going back to nationals. My goal is just to win.’’

He’s the most comfortable in the paint with a physical game.

“I’m the workhorse,’’ he said. “I get the rebounds and putbacks. I play defense and try to give the team a lot of energy. I like being physical. I just attack every ball, every loose ball. I don’t ever stop attacking the ball.’’

Ray’Shawn Dotson, another inside player, was another dominant figure inside Monday with 12 points.

“It’s definitely helped me having to go against him in practice,’’ Bryant said. “Me and him battle it out and it just makes both of us better. He’s coming back next year and he’s really going to dominate.’’

His game was inspired by childhood hero Shaquille O’Neal.

“I saw how dominant he was with his size,’’ Bryant said. “He was attacking the goals and dunking on people, that’s how I want to model my game.’’

Bryant’s is studying to be an athletic trainer. He works with Jets trainer Julie Baggett with the NOC Enid women’s basketball team, the softball team and the baseball team. His ambition is to be a trainer first at the college level and then the NBA or NFL.

“Getting other players into the best shape they can be has helped me,’’ he said. “I wasn’t in the greatest of shape coming in and now I’m in the best shape of my life. Everything you do off the court — eating better and getting your sleep … it all shows on the court. I’m getting a lot of experience and I’m learning a lot.’’

Bryant is from Queens, N.Y., which is almost like being from a different planet in rural Oklahoma.

“I think being further from home has been a good thing for me,’’ he said. “I’m experiencing life and getting out and seeing the world and experiencing a new culture. I’ve grown both mentally and physically. It’s been a big change from your parents being right there in your face. You got to do it on your own, and if you don’t, no one cares.’’

He smiles and says Shamburg “definitely gets in your face.’’

“Basketball is so much different there,’’ he said about his hometown. “There’s a lot of in-your-face. The crowd gets in your face. There’s a lot of stuff that can throw you off. I learned a lot on the playgrounds and in high school. If you get good enough, then everybody is going to help you and you develop and grow.’’

He is a avid New York Knicks fan, his favorite player is ex-Knick Carmelo Anthony, now of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Jets return to action Monday at Murray State to start the second rotation of conference play. The Aggies beat the Jets, 81-77 at the Mabee Center on Nov. 30.

He is determined to make a return trip to nationals. The Jets are fighting for a good seed for the regional tournament in March which will determine the Region 2 representative.

“That was a great experience and I will do whatever I can to make sure the freshmen have that experience, too,’’ he said. “We just need to keep the wins coming.’’

 

 

Advertisements

Drame Twins Poised to Have a Break Summer

MANALAPAN, N.J. – There is nothing like familiarity on the court. Last weekend at Elevate Hoops’ Icebreaker II, twins from West African nation of Mali proved great things come in pairs.

Meet Hassan and Fousseyni Drame, who came to the United States last year and are prepping at powerhouse independent school Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.). At first glance, the twins share the love of the game, but each one presents a different skill set on the court.

First, they are 6-foot-5 athletic wings, both have 7-foot wingspans while still learning the game as a rising juniors (Class of 2019). They hope to attend the same college are projected as mid to high major prospects.

Hassan is a better shooter and after 17 months in the weight room, he’s stronger. His rebounding, passing and dribble drive is improving daily.

Fousseyni is offense-oriented too but is more of a slasher. He’ll attack the rim and finish in heavy traffic. His handle is very good and he makes good decisions went the pressure is ratcheted up.

“Both of them are superior athletes; their best days are ahead and they have not even scratched the surface of potential,” OSNA assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch said.

The Drames were just two of more than a thousand players competing at Sportika for Born Ready Elite 17-Under of Brooklyn before more than 120 schools at the three-day event that concluded on Sunday afternoon.

There’s more with two weeks left in the NCAA live summer evaluation period.

The action shifts to Philadelphia University this week for the next round of business as the summer live period is quickly coming to a close. Elevate Hoops will take over the Gallagher Center on Friday for three days of the Summer Showdown.

Charles drains four threes in UNO Win

 

Image result for ezekiel charles basketball

NATCHITOCHES, La. – Bryson Robinson came off the bench with a game-high 17 points, Ezekiel Charles matched his Saturday totals and career-high of 15 points and four triples and Travin Thibodeaux added 11 in the University of New Orleans’ (10-10, 7-2 Southland) 73-67 victory over Northwestern State University (3-16, 0-8 Southland) Wednesday evening at Prather Coliseum.

Robinson went 3-of-4 from three-point range and 8-of-10 from the charity stripe and Charles was 5-of-8 overall and 4-of-6 from long distance. The bench outscored Northwestern State’s second unit 36-to-15 and dominated the second chance opportunities, posting 20 points off 14 offensive boards.

FIRST HALF
The Demons scored the opening five points, but a technical foul propelled the Privateers to six unanswered to give UNO its first lead of the game.

Lamont Berzat‘s second jumper of the game at the 3:05 mark gave New Orleans its largest lead thus far (+6) and after an NSU free throw, Charles drained a three to extend the UNO lead to eight.

Early on, the clubs traded points but both teams looked sloppy at times with 22 combined turnovers. The UNO defense forced 13 Northwestern State miscues.

In the stanza, the Demons and Privateers shot the ball well with NSU draining 60.0 percent of its field goals. UNO went 13-of-25 to lead at the break 35-31.

Charles was 3-of-4 from the field with two triples to lead all players with nine points. Troy Green followed with six and Berzat added five.

SECOND HALF
Diontae Champion jumper capped off a 7-0 run that gave the Silver and Blue a nine-point lead with 13:48 to go.

Two minutes later, Thibodeaux drained a three of his own to extend the UNO lead to 53-43. The Privateers cooled off and NSU was able to rally back with eight unanswered to condense the New Orleans lead to five with 8:04 to go.

Charles took over and provided the dagger with back-to-back triples to tie his career-highs in points (15), three-pointers (four) to give UNO its largest lead of the game 66-55 with just over three minutes to play.

On the ensuing Privateers possession, Makur Puou came up with an offensive board, Zeke followed with one of his own and Thibodeaux capped off the opportunity with a layup for a 12-point cushion.

The Demons continued to claw their way back in the game, but Robinson made three of four free throws in the final 30 seconds to lead the Privateers to a 73-67 lead. The win improves the conference record to 7-2 through the first half of the 18-game Southland Conference schedule.

INSIDE THE BOX
Green scored nine points and added four rebounds, three assists and two steals in 20 minutes off the bench. Champion added five points in 17 minutes in his return and Berzat scored five points before leaving the game due to injury.

For the Demons, three players reached double figures, led by Ishmael Lane’s 14 points, seven boards and four blocks. Iziahiah Sweeney scored 13 points and dished out three assists and Malik Metoyer chipped in 12.

NEXT UP
The Privateers head to San Antonio to close the season series with UIW. Tip-off is at 2:05 p.m. and the game will be televised in New Orleans on Cox Sports Television. New Orleans defeated UIW 74-70 January 20 at Lakefront Arena.

SOCIAL MEDIA
Fans are encouraged to follow @PrivateersMBB on Twitter, @PrivateersMBB on Instagram, like /PrivateersMBB on Facebook and subscribe to the PrivateerAthletics YouTube channel.

Nunez Rated one of the Top Small Forwards in the Country

Class of 2018 Position Rankings: Small forwards

Gvg6cvdanlmvpkiz1nhe

We’ve brought back the position rankings to basketball and we reintroduce them this week by ranking the best point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards and centers in the class of 2018.

NEW RELEASESmall Forwards | Shooting Guards | Point Guards

MORE RANKINGS2018 Team | 2018 Rivals150 | 2019 Rivals150 | 2020 Rivals150

Today, we move to the small forwards, who are led by the nation’s No. 1 ranked player, Dukecommit

, a Canadian who plays his high school ball at Montverde (Fla.) Academy. What stands out about the 2018 crop of small forwards as a whole? Who is the best fit for his college destination and who might be getting a bit overlooked?Rivals.com national basketball analysts Eric Bossi and Corey Evans weigh in with their thoughts.

WHAT STANDS OUT TO ME MOST ABOUT THE 2018 SMALL FORWARDS IS …

 1

NATIONAL
STATE

 1

POSITION
R.J.
BARRETT
RANK
N/A
6’7″ 200 LBS SF
MONTVERDE ACADEMY
MONTVERDE, FL
CLASS OF 2018

SIGNED LOI
11/10/2017

DUKE

Eric Bossi: “In the age of multi-positional players and versatility, what stands out to me is how many of the top-end small forwards in 2018 will be able to be utilized as small ball four men to help stretch and extend defenses. Duke commit

North Carolina commit

Syracuse commit

Oregon commit

Texas commit

and Indiana commit

are all players who I would bet end up playing a decent amount of time at the four during their college careers. And that’s just guys who rank in the top 10 at the position.”Corey Evans: “Who, in five or six years, can we label as the best?

has remained the top prospect in the 2018 class ever since he reclassified at the tail end of the summer. Barrett has all of the physical abilities to make himself a long-tenured standout in the NBA. However, who is to say that

,

or

couldn’t have an even better career? They each have totally different skill sets and as the game evolves in the coming years, it will be interesting to see who announces themselves as the best.”

THE BEST FIT FOR HIS COLLEGE DESTINATION IS …

Bossi: “It’s hard not to like how good a fit

is for Syracuse. Because of his length and quickness, Bazley will be able to play on the top or bottom of the Orange’s two-three zone and he’ll give them a valuable rebounder and versatile offensive player who will allow them to go big with him on the wing or small with him as a four man. Thinking about him and

playing alongside each other on the front line is something that ACC foes aren’t going to be looking forward to.”

Image result for adrien nunez basketball

Evans: “

isn’t known by many, as the New York native entered last summer as a member of the 2017 class with zero scholarship offers. Thanks to a prolific performance in July, converting nine three-pointers in one game alone, Nunez’s stock soared. Thereafter, he decided to take a prep year at St. Thomas More this fall as a number of top mid-major and high-level programs entered the picture. Ultimately, Nunez was swayed by Michigan coach John Beilein and the system that he has become known for throughout the years. Just like it was for

and

, Nunez may have found the ideal landing spot and opportunity to shine the brightest.”

THE SMALL FORWARD WHOSE POTENTIAL CATCHES MY EYE IS …

Qrkcr7wtakpqcozrutb7

Nassir Little

Bossi: “I’m not exactly going out on a limb here because we already have him ranked No. 3 at his position, but I could see

eventually passing the guys ahead of him. He’s not as skilled as

or quite the overwhelming athlete

is, but he’s improving at a rapid rate and seems to have another level he can reach at North Carolina and beyond. Moving a bit further down the list, I’d keep a close eye on Creighton-bound

and UConn commit

. Bishop has tremendous size and skill while Matthews is a long, lean kid with the potential to develop into an elite jump shooter.”Evans: “There is something about

that has really caught my eye. The 2018 wing from Charleston, S.C., has become the forgotten member of Vanderbilt’s highly lauded recruiting class this winter, but he may emerge early in Nashville as an integral piece in coach Bryce Drew’s offense. A highly valued shooter that has developed his ball skills in recent months, Nesmith is an elite competitor. He can score in volumes but it is his willingness to maximize his game that could be the reason that he surprises some as a high-level producer in the SEC.”

 

Stephenson Clutch in Pacers Win

Super Lance shows up late to lead Pacers to key win over 76ers

JIM AYELLO | JIM.AYELLO@INDYSTAR.COM

0 minutes ago
“We’re just trying to show everybody it’s serious, but it’s still a game.”
JIM AYELLO/INDYSTAR

INDIANAPOLIS – When the Indiana Pacers and their fans needed him most, Super Lance swooped in to save the day.

With Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers looking like it might come down to the write, Super Lance Stephenson made sure it did not. Stephenson delivered yet another one of his signature frenetic fourth-quarter performances to help the Pacers wrestle away 100-92 win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) celebrates his three point basket in the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) celebrates his three point basket in the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
TREVOR RUSZKOWSKI-USA TODAY SPORTS

After scoring just two points in the first half — though he did collect another highlight reel assist in the second quarter — Stephenson went berserk in the fourth, draining 3-pointers and dropping dimes to push the Pacers past their fellow Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

“I just try to stay confident the whole game, stay focused and try to do whatever it takes to help my teammates win,” Stephenson said of the (somewhat) controlled chaos he unleashed on Philadelphia. “I’m just trying to make something positive happen out there.”

The Stephenson takeover began with 10 minutes left in the game when he ripped a bullet pass into the post to Al Jefferson who finished it with a dunk to give Indiana an 80-75 lead. Next time down the court, Stephenson knocked down a 3 to extend advantage to 83-77.

That’s when Lance turned into Super Lance.

After a 76ers timeout failed to stop Indiana’s momentum, Stephenson threw down a dunk off his own off a nifty feed from Darren Collison. A couple minutes later, Stephenson connected on a sizzling full-court pass to Thaddeus Young for an easy layup that pushed the lead to 89-81 and led to the latest Stephenson social media sensation: his celebration of flapping his arms like a bird.

From there, the Stephenson-led Pacers held off Philadelphia, never letting them get closer than six.

Stephenson, who entered the fourth quarter with two points three rebounds and one assist finished the game with 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

Bojan Bogdanovic and Victor Oladipo led the the Pacers in scoring with 19 points each. Darren Collison chipped in 11 and Thad Young and Domantas Sabonis had 10 apiece.

Indiana’s win was made all the more impressive, as it came in a night when Myles Turner (0 points, 0 rebounds in 15 minutes) — who has been a key cog in the Pacers’ offense lately — made little impact because of foul trouble.

Here are three takeaways from the Pacers’ 100-92 win over the 76ers.

Determined defense

View | 12 Photos

Twenty-four hours after a nightmarish defensive performance against Charlotte — the lowlight a 49-point first quarter — the Pacers stifled the 76ers Saturday, limiting them to just 38 points in the second half.

Despite playing with a size disadvantage at nearly every position, Indiana used its speed  and quickness to force 18 turnovers and limit the 76ers to just 38 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

“It’s kind of the dog days of the NBA, right before the (All-Star) break,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said after the game. “Our guys are battling fatigue, physical fatigue as well as mental, and you have to fight through that. … Last night we got off to a slow start defensively (so), it was certainly a point of emphasis tonight.”

Saturday’s effort was a huge turnaround not only from Friday night against the Hornets but from the last time Indiana played the 76ers. In that early-November game, Philadelphia scored 121 points and shot 50 percent from the field as J.J. Reddick smoked the Pacers for 31 points, including eight 3-pointers.

On Saturday, Indiana made Reddick a non-factor, as he scored just six points on 1-of-8 shooting. The Pacers also received solid defense performances from Stephenson and the next man in this story:

Boost from Bojan

The month of January wasn’t very kind to Bojan Bogdanovic who in 14 games shot worse than 30 percent from beyond the arc and scored 16-plus points just four times. But his past three games, Bogdanovic looks like a different player. After connecting on 4-of-7 from 3-point land Saturday night, he’s now scored at least 18 points in three straight games and hit more 3s in those games than he had in the previous seven games combined.

Bogdanovic contributed to the win on the defensive end, as well. He drew the tough matchup of guarding Ben Simmons, who came in averaging 20.3 points per game in his past six contests. Bogdanovic helped limit the 76ers’ 6-foot-10 point guard to just 10 points, a big key in Indiana’s victory.

“We wanted to keep size on Simmons,” said McMillan, who also lauded Stephenson’s efforts on Simmons in the fourth quarter. “I thought Bojan did a nice job of just staying in front and keeping a body between him in the basket and making him go over the top. … Both Lance and Bojan did a solid job of keeping him in front.”

Plenty left in the tank

Feb 3, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) reacts to a foul called on him in the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
TREVOR RUSZKOWSKI-USA TODAY SPORTS

When Turner picked up two quick fouls to begin the game, 13-year NBA veteran Al Jefferson became an unexpected key to the Pacers’ first-half attack.

Though he played just seven minutes, that was more than enough time for the old man to take the young Embiid to school.

First the self-professed “dinosaur” knocked down a turnaround jumper in the youngster’s face. Next was spin class, as Professor Jefferson backed down the All-Star, then unleashed a wicked whirl-around to the basket that he finished with an easy hook.

“You know Al. He’s unstoppable in the post,” Stephenson said. “His footwork is amazing. They don’t know what he’s going to do. … You can’t stop it. You cannot stop it.”

By the end of that first half, Jefferson was plus-6 in the box score with seven points and a rebound.

“I think a lot of these young guys have never seen some of the things I do,” Jefferson said after the game. “I don’t think guys are used to the footwork I have — not being that athletic but can still get my shot off. I’m a dinosaur in this league.”

Despite taking grief from his teammates, Indiana Pacers big man Al Jefferson calls himself a die-hard New England Patriots/Tom Brady fan and will be cheering for them in the Super Bowl. He also thinks Brady should consider retiring after the game.
JIM AYELLO/INDYSTAR

In the second half Jefferson continued his stellar play, frustrating Embiid with his physicality. Once he even knocked the ball away from the center, picking up the loose ball and quickly finding Collison, who connected with Domantas Sabonis for a layup.

It’s a credit to Jefferson, who finished with nine points and a rebound in 13 minutes, for being ready to go after seeing just one minute of action the previous three games combined.

Follow IndyStar Sports reporter Jim Ayello on Twitter and Instagram: @jimayello.

Read more on the Pacers:

Originally Published 3 hours ago
Updated 0 minutes ago

Jaleel Charles Earned his 2nd Player of the Week Award

Atlanta, Ga. (12-12-17) – For the second time in two weeks, Claflin University men’s basketball player Jaleel Charles has been named the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Men’s Basketball Player of the Week.  The Player of the Week Honors were announced by the league office Tuesday.  Michael Stevenson Kentucky State earned Newcomer of the Week honors.

Charles assisted the Panthers to a 2-0 record last week to lead Claflin to a 10-1 overall record and 4-0 in conference play. He averaged just shy of a double-double as he finished averaging 12.3 points and 9.3 rebounds for the week. Despite the initial 20-point deficit, the Panthers finished with a feat over CIAA opponent Winston-Salem State (Dec. 4) as he scored a season-high 29 points with nine rebounds and one block. The New York native also recorded his second straight 20-point plus game (23) in the win over Saint Augustine’s.

Claflin will travel to Gaffney, S.C. to face Limestone College in a non-conference matchup Wednesday (Dec. 13).

For up-to-date information on Claflin University men’s basketball visit the men’s basketball page on the Claflin athletics website at athletics.claflin.edu.

Born Ready discusses how Indiana has become Home

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. — Lance Stephenson loves the simplicity of silver, white and black, which cover the NBA player’s 8,440-square-foot estate.

Big, black decorative letters spell out his nickname, “B O R N R E A D Y,” on one wall. Two paintings of silver Buddhas, one upside down — Stephenson thought they’d look cooler that way — hang side by side. But the pièce de résistance sits in the corner of his living room: a platinum, life-size replica of a horse.

“Indiana, you know,” Stephenson said. “I figured a horse would fit in here.”

The horse indeed fits Indiana, and somehow so does Stephenson.

After several years of bouncing around the league without a steady home, Stephenson seems to have found one in his second tour of duty with the Pacers. Now in his second season back with the team that drafted him in 2010, he is the tongue-wagging, hip-gyrating, showboating guard injected into the veins of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“The energy is just contagious,” said Bill Manlove, a season-ticket holder in the section devoted to Stephenson, “The Born Ready Crew.”

Just how did a city kid bred on the swagger of Brooklyn street ball become so beloved in one of the NBA’s most culturally conservative markets, where the humble ethos of “Hoosiers” still lingers? It’s the story of a marriage between a flyover state with an underdog mentality and a brazen, overlooked second-round pick made good.

Stephenson couldn’t find acceptance in five other NBA cities but returned here to wide-open arms. In Indiana, basketball conquers all.

Indiana’s adopted son

The limelight followed him as a teenager.

He starred in his own reality show as a high school junior. By his senior year, he mean-mugged on the cover of Slam magazine. He was a phenom in the big city, graduating as the career leading scorer in New York state’s high school basketball history. Even after a year at Cincinnati, in which he was named Big East rookie of the year, he had to fly to 17 pre-draft workouts in search of his NBA shot. He arrived in Indianapolis as a relative unknown in June 2010 when then-Pacers president Larry Bird chose him with the 40th pick.

“Nobody had expectations for Lance,” said Tom Lewis, founder of Pacers fan blog Indy Cornrows.

But Indiana has a soft spot for the overlooked. Maybe because “Hoosiers,” a movie celebrating the underdog, is so ingrained that it seems to be a requirement for state residence — “I’ve seen it 12 times,” bragged Manlove, whose father was an extra in one of the scenes. With Stephenson, fans had found another stray.

Behind closed doors, he treated Pacers practices like Game 7, causing veterans to admonish: “Rook, you got to relax! This is just practice!” He nonetheless spent most of his rookie season as a question mark, fans having no clue that such fire and energy was bottled up in a suit on the bench.

Stephenson won the hearts of Pacers fans by not backing down from LeBron James. (Brent Smith/Reuters)

By the next season, he was becoming a cult hero, coming out of nowhere to score 22 points in the regular season finale against the rival Chicago Bulls. There he was again in the playoffs, holding a choke sign after Miami Heat star LeBron James missed a free throw in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“As soon as he did that, everybody was like, ‘I don’t know if the kid can play, but that’s great,’ ” said Scott Lagler, another longtime fan.

In 2012-13, he started 72 games. The next year, he averaged 13.8 points, flopping theatrically for calls and celebrating big shots by squatting low and wiggling his hips.

“He’s got that type of swagger to him. That’s how he gets himself going, gets himself excited,” said Cory Joseph, a current Pacer who played against Stephenson from 2011-17. “Sometimes it tends to get under people’s skin.”

He was an irritant, but he was Indiana’s irritant. And he was James’s thorn.

For three straight postseasons, the Pacers ran into Miami’s Big Three as Stephenson conducted a master class on how to frustrate The King, once going so far as to blow into James’s ear.

“Lance has swagger to go up to the biggest, baddest dude in the NBA and blow in his ear and let him know he’s here,” said Dominic Dorsey, a native and Pacers fan. “And that’s Indiana.

“They call us Naptown: Everybody sleeps on us,” Dorsey continued. “Here’s the thing: Nobody expects us to sneak up from behind and come away with the win. You’ve got Lance Stephenson on your squad, you think you might just have a shot.”

Just happy to be here

At first, Stephenson didn’t know what to make of this place.

“It’s more country-like to me,” Stephenson said of Indiana. “I’m from the city. I mean, there’s always something to do in New York. . . . When I got here, I didn’t know what to do.”

He was entering a market unlike New York in other ways, too. Indianapolis, the state capital, is a contradiction at the crossroads of America.

The Pacers play in downtown Indianapolis, a rare dot of blue in a statewide sea of Republican red, but where Stephenson has settled, 22 miles away in quiet Boone County, residents voted 60.4 percent for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was tapped as Trump’s running mate and, in October, the vice president returned for a Colts game — walking out when a handful of players knelt during the national anthem. A Republican state lawmaker recently announced plans to push legislation that would force the Colts to offer refunds to fans offended by kneeling players.

Stephenson may ooze confidence and have no problem preening on the court, but he is reluctant to wade into political waters.

“There’s been some stuff that went on, and I wanted to talk about. I feel like . . . ” he said, with a pause. “My words ain’t really going to help what’s going on. I don’t feel like I can really change . . . ”

Another pause.

“I feel like I would be hurting myself more than anything, trying to speak my own opinion and how I feel,” he continued. “So I just stay quiet, because I don’t want that type of energy and that stuff around me.”

Indianapolis has long been a pocket of liberalism — at least by Indiana standards. The Pacers long had a reputation for signing more white players than the average team. In 2004, when asked by ESPN whether the NBA needed more white superstars, Bird replied, “I think it’s good for a fan base because, as we all know, the majority of the fans are white America. And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited.”

Following a few franchise-altering events — most notably “The Malice at the Palace” in 2004, when Indiana players fought with fans in the stands in Detroit, and a 2006 incident in which Stephen Jackson fired a gun outside of a strip club — four of the Pacers’ top seven players were white.

“A lot of people in Indiana want a white face for their professional basketball franchise,” said Lagler, who is white.

When Dorsey, a community organizer who’s black, planned and participated in more than a dozen Black Lives Matter protests in his hometown, he read the ugly opinions posted under reports about the events. In Dorsey’s view, a professional athlete in Indianapolis should tread carefully before tweeting #blacklivesmatter, so he doesn’t blame Stephenson for his decision to remain silent.

“The comments that you’ll see from thumb thugs and Internet warriors just sitting there watching the broadcast, saying, ‘How dare you! Go get a job! Welfare queens!’ ” Dorsey said. “[Trump] being in office has emboldened that type of behavior and that type of rhetoric. If you value your fans and you just want to make your money and go home, why would you step into that arena?”

Stephenson hoped to re-sign with Indiana but, after the sides failed to come to an agreement, he left for Charlotte. That set off a journey of playing for five teams over three seasons. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer)

Stephenson said he doesn’t censor himself because he plays in Indiana, but he remembers how low he was before this second chance. He doesn’t want to risk it.

“I was going through team to team and couldn’t figure out a role, what team needed me,” said Stephenson, who was cut in March by the Minnesota Timberwolves, concluding a journey in which he suited up for five teams over three seasons after leaving Indiana in free agency. “I was, like, at my weakest.”

Then, just as Bird was stepping down as team president in April, he brought Stephenson home on a three-year contract.

At Stephenson’s home debut April 4, the ovation was so loud that he had to stare at the rim to keep from crying. After games, fans followed him to his favorite hangout, Hooters.

“He saw my shirt and wanted it,” said Jared Beeler, who was wearing a gold “Born Ready” T-shirt at the restaurant. “I couldn’t say no.”

Fans would give Stephenson the shirts off their backs because of nights like Jan. 12. In the Pacers’ 97-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Stephenson was back to bothering James. After hitting a three-pointer, he got in James’s face on defense and remained there after a whistle. When James delivered a forearm to his chest, Stephenson exaggerated the contact and flashed an incredulous expression as he searched for a referee. James got hit with a technical foul. Indiana, of course, loved it.

“You hear about guys having a quiet 20-point, eight-assist night?” Indy Cornrows’ Lewis said, before screaming, “Lance! Does not have a quiet night. If he has a 10-point, five-assist night, it’s loud!”

When he’s in Indiana, Stephenson isn’t the kid from Brooklyn. The second-round pick with too much swagger. The castaway forgotten by the NBA. He is their humble Hoosier.

“I feel like I get all the energy from all the fans, and it just go inside of me and I just fight for them,” Stephenson said. “I do whatever I can to win for them, and I feel like the fans make me the player that I am now. … I feel like this is home to me.”