Bloomington, Ind. – Lance Stemler's college basketball journey to Bloomington has been anything but direct.
Coach Kelvin Sampson's most recent signee for the 2006 Hoosier recruiting class signed his IU letter of intent early last week, becoming the second player to sign this spring along with Tyler, Texas, forward Mike White. He intends to arrive in Bloomington later this summer with the intentions of becoming a very valuable part of the Hoosiers' 2007 and 2008 fortunes.
His arrival in Bloomington, meanwhile, should also be the final stop on a college basketball trip that's been untraditional to say the least.
"He's had one of those careers from hell," says his Southwestern Illinois College Coach Jay Harrington.
A full qualifier out of high school, the 6-8, 205-pound Stemler didn't get the sort of attention he had hoped for. That led him to enroll for his first stint at Southwestern Illinois. Harrington said big things were expected of Stemler from the outset, but a broken wrist kept him on the sidelines and forced him to redshirt that first season.
Despite the injury, a couple of programs still took notice of him. Bradley came to an open gym at SWIC, saw Stemler's skills and offered him a scholarship. Despite his never playing a game at SWIC, Stemler was bound for the Missouri Valley Conference school.
"Being a qualifier (out of high school), I always promise them that if they can go, I let them go," Harrington said.
But Stemler didn't get the sort of opportunity he had hoped for at the Peoria, Ill., school. He played in only 12 games and averaged 1.0 points and 3.0 minutes/game while backing up Marcellus Sommerville. A former player at Iowa, Sommerville had spent a year at Southwestern Illinois College as well before winding up at Bradley and was expected to be a contender for Missouri Valley Conference player of the year honors this season.
Faced with the possibility of playing sparingly for a third consecutive season since graduating from Gibault Catholic High School in 2003, Stemler opted to leave Bradley and re-enroll at Southwestern Illinois College in the hopes of getting another shot at a Division I scholarship – and more importantly, a better opportunity – this spring.
"(Bradley) told him they were going to have a scholarship for him and he could come back and play behind Marcellus, but he didn't want to do that," Harrington said.
So Stemler returned to SWIC, where he made the most of his opportunity. He averaged 21.9 points per game this season, ranking sixth nationally in scoring. He also shot 43 percent from behind the 3-point arc while helping SWIC to a 34-4 record and a No. 6 ranking nationally.
Harrington said that despite the disappointment at Bradley, Stemler's time there helped his development immensely. After all, last year's roster did include the nucleus of a squad that advanced to the Sweet 16 this past March.
"I think the redshirt year here helped with lifting, and playing against the Bradley kids, going up against Marcellus everyday, helped him a great deal," Harrington said.
The end result was first-team JUCO All-America recognition this season, and plenty of major Division I interest. After weighing offers from Nebraska, Marquette, St. Louis, Indiana, Hawaii, Wyoming and Minnesota, among others, Stemler wound up committing to Sampson and signing with the Hoosiers early last week.
Harrington said Indiana is getting a player who is not only well traveled, but well schooled in the game.
"He's skilled and a very smart player," Harrington said. "He's not the greatest athlete, but he's not a bad athlete. He's just so smart. He's a cerebral player instead of just an athlete."
Harrington said he's also a rarity in the junior college ranks.
"I've been in junior college for 30 years, and there are very few kids that come through junior college like this kid," Harrington said. "Sometimes there are kids that leave an impression on you because of the type of kid they are. I think that's one thing he brings to the table that a lot of junior college kids don't bring."
Stemler will get his opportunity to leave an impression at IU as well. He is expected to be a big part of Sampson's plans on the frontline, teaming with the likes of D.J. White, Ben Allen and Mike White.
Long, Strange Trip For IU-Bound Stemler
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