Bloomington, Ind. – Lance Stemler is likely enjoying his last couple of months of relative obscurity.
The 6-8, 210-pound forward is in Bloomington, taking a pair of summer school courses while also getting a head start on his preparation for the 2006-07 season. Despite his physical stature and the prominent role he's expected to play this season, he says he can still make his way around town without drawing too much attention to himself.
"I'm still flying under the radar," Stemler says. "I went to the mall with D.J. (White) and Rod (Wilmont), and people would come up to them and I'd try to hang back and stay out of it for now."
That figures to change in the not-too-distant future. After an All-America season last winter at Southwestern Illinois College, IU Coach Kelvin Sampson brought in Stemler to play a big role on this year's squad.
A 22-point, six-rebound per game producer last season, Stemler will give Sampson another big body on the IU frontline, someone who can score inside or out depending on the match-up.
That versatility attracted Sampson in the first place, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates during off-season open gym workouts.
"Lance has impressed me," D.J. White said. "He's shown me what he can do. I think he's going to be good once we get into a set offensive scheme and get him coming off screens."
Sampson's motion offense will certainly provide that sort of structure for Stemler once practice opens in October.
Of course, "structure" isn't always a term that's welcomed by incoming junior college players. Even the most heralded JUCOs occasionally struggle with the adjustment to Division I basketball thanks to systems that are often much more rigid than what they've grown accustomed to at a two-year school.
That's not the case for Stemler, though, whose SWIC program went 34-4 a year ago under the leadership of long-time coach Jay Harrington.
"The program I came from is very disciplined," Stemler said. "You have to get your stuff done off the court as well as on. There are some programs that just run and gun, but that wasn't us at all.
"Being from structure and knowing how to play basketball, that's going to help me a lot."
The fact he spent time at SWIC and now Indiana playing for a couple of coaches who run disciplined programs isn't a coincidence.
"I've always realized I'm a player that needs structure," Stemler said. "I'm not the best athlete in the world, so I need to use my skill and be in a structured program, and it just so happened that program (SWIC) was right next to me."
Since leaving SWIC Stemler has remained in close contact with Harrington, saying he usually talks to him every day. Stemler says his former coach checks in regularly to make sure he's doing what he needs to do in the off-season to prepare himself for a productive junior season in Bloomington.
"He's keeping an eye on me still," Stemler said. "If I'm ever having a bad day, he's there to encourage me, tries to make sure I'm doing okay."
It's a relationship Stemler says he values very much, and the kind he said he'd like to develop with Sampson as well.
"I try to go in and see him once every day or every other day just to talk to him and say hi and build that relationship," Stemler said. "Coming from where I came from, I was real close with my coach, and I like that feel. Coach Sampson is close to his players, also."
Stemler figures to build that bond with Sampson during the summer months and into the fall. Once practice gets started in October and games begin the following month he's hoping he can become a favorite of IU fans.
While he admits he's enjoying his ability to make his way around campus and town as a relative unknown, he hopes he can do some things this season on-the-court that will endear him to the IU fan base.
"Hopefully after the season starts people will recognize me the way they recognize D.J. and Rod," Stemler said. "The opportunity to play at IU and in the Big Ten has been a dream of mine since I can remember - ever since I started shooting the ball in the backyard."
Lance Stemler - Part II
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