Lance Stephenson, a 6-foot-6 forward and a 2009 McDonald's High School All-American, has signed a financial aid agreement with the Bearcats and will join the team for the 2009-10 season.
"We are very excited about Lance's decision to become a Bearcat," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said in a school statement. "Lance has terrific talent as a basketball player, and is also a fierce competitor on the court. His desire to win will help us compete for a Big East Championship.
"As a big guard, Lance brings playmaking ability and versatility to our team, along with his talent for scoring. We look forward to getting Lance here for summer school and building our team for the upcoming season."
The last of the top 15 in the ESPNU top 100 of 2009, Stephenson (ranked No. 12) was originally slated to go to Kansas after being wooed by Maryland and his hometown St. John's, but the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln High guard lost out on the Kansas scholarship after Xavier Henry got out of his national letter of intent from Memphis to go to Kansas once John Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky. Ironically, Henry is reportedly waffling on that commitment and may now follow Calipari to Kentucky.
Florida, Florida International and Arizona were all reportedly pursuing Stephenson, something that sources connected to those schools flatly denied.
The issue with Stephenson is twofold: He's still dealing with a sexual assault charge from last fall from a case outside Lincoln High that was put off Monday until July 15. Also, according to a source with knowledge of the NCAA enforcement process, the NCAA is expected to look into Stephenson's amateur status. Stephenson was part of a documentary "Born Ready" and a tour of the Under Armour factory while visiting Maryland earlier this year.
Multiple coaches who recruited Stephenson told ESPN.com that they expected an NCAA investigation into Stephenson's amateur status as soon as he committed to a school. Sources said Cincinnati isn't worried about Stephenson's status or for that matter the assault case, which sources say the UC staff is optimistic would be either dismissed or mitigated to a misdemeanor charge.
Stephenson joins the Bearcats after a highly decorated prep career at Lincoln, where he averaged 28.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists to earn Class AA New York State Sports Writers Association Player of the Year honors his senior year. He graduated high school as the all-time leading scorer in the history of the state of New York with 2,946 points.
If Stephenson is eligible, then the Bearcats would suddenly catapult into a challenging role in the Big East. Stephenson would be added to a loaded roster of returnees in guard Deonta Vaughn (15.3 ppg) and forward Yancy Gates (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg). The Bearcats also get back highly touted point guard Cashmere Wright, who missed all last season with a torn ACL in his left knee, and Oklahoma State transfer center Ibrahima Thomas, who will be eligible in mid-December.
The Bearcats finished 8-10 in the Big East last season, 18-14 overall.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.