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Saturday afternoon played out like the end of a fairy tale for Lance Stephenson and four-time champion Lincoln.
Players shed tears and hugged one another on the Madison Square Garden court, the area’s grandest stage, after the Railsplitters made PSAL history by defending their city crown for the fourth time.
It felt like the final chapter of Stephenson’s storybook high-school career. Only, there is still an epilogue that remains to be written.
The site is Glens Falls, home to the state Federation tournament, just a 3 ½-hour drive north of the city. Lincoln will meet Rice, the CHSAA Class AA intersectional champion, Saturday afternoon in the ‘AA’ semifinal at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
In past years, coaches have always described the city playoffs as the end-all, be-all. Dwayne (Tiny) Morton, however, has never followed the party line. He wants to win Saturday and then Sunday. See, Lincoln has won the last two state titles, including the 2007 championship game over Rice. No boys’ team has ever won three in a row – in any classification.
“I would be really happy, as a coach, to get three state championships (in a row),” Morton said. “It’s not where you can predict who’s gonna get to states. … To do it three years in a row, that’s special.”
Morton has experience with breaking records, with his team and an individual player. In 2005, Sebastian Telfair had led the Railsplitters to three consecutive city titles, then a PSAL record, and had just taken over as New York State’s all-time leading scorer.
He was preoccupied with his participation in the McDonald’s All-American Game, the most prestigious showcase for the nation’s top seniors, and his bountiful future. He ended up playing one of the worst games of his career in a loss to Mount Vernon (N.Y.). Morton is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen with this group, and Stephenson, who has bested all of Telfair’s records.
“It better be,” Morton said when asked if it will be different. “But they’re kids, so you got to make them understand.
Stephenson, teammate Darwin Ellis said, has said little about the upcoming tournament, a stark contrast to how he prepared for Saturday’s record-setting showdown – by barking out “history,” every time the two longtime friends and teammates crossed paths.
Besides his match-up with Rice’s Durand Scott, Stephenson’s eyes only lit up when discussing a particular event from the team’s trip upstate two years ago – when the team milked cows at a nearby farm. They were hosted by a local high school, which welcomed the Coney Islanders in with open arms.
“We had a lot of fun,” Stephenson said.
Tuesday’s practice was particularly low key. The Railsplitters were noticeably loose, joking and smiling as they went through drills.
“When we get there, it’s gonna be serious,” said Ellis, the sharp-shooting senior.
Stephenson said his pursuit of 3,000 points – his career total currently stands at 2,832 – doesn’t hold much importance. He already is the career leader in the category. Adding another title is on his mind, though.
“That’s another (record); we’re gonna try hard to win this game, play as a team,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s gonna win three states, either. That would be tough.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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