Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — From NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin to all-time greats Mark Jackson and Bernard King, New York City’s borough of Brooklyn has produced its fair share of NBA talent over the years.
That’s something that Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo knows very well. Carlesimo coached on the collegiate level for 19 total years, spending time at New Hampshire college (1975) , Staten Island’s Wagner College (1976-1982) and former Big East powerhouse Seton Hall University (1982-1994).
Carlesimo remembers recruiting at some of Brooklyn’s high schools. “It’s always been a great borough, there’s always been players in Brooklyn,” he said before the Nets took on the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 13. “Forever, there’s been great players coming out of Brooklyn. I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t here recruiting both the CHSAA and the PSAL.”
Although high school powerhouses such as Bishop Loughlin and Nazareth Regional are amongst Brooklyn’s more renowned high schools, it was a pair of Coney Island’s own and former Lincoln High Railsplitters that made their hometown NBA debuts on the weekend of Jan. 11.
Neither Sebastian Telfair nor Lance Stephenson ever thought they’d see such a day.
Telfair was the first of the two former Railsplitters to come home. The Brooklyn native and nine-year NBA veteran that’s affectionately known as “Bassy” had never been to Barclays Center before, but he was very familiar with the corner that it was built on.
“I played for [AAU team] Brooklyn USA, so all my teammates were from this area,” he said. “We always used to meet right out here at the clock tower on Atlantic Avenue.”
Telfair had been looking forward to this game for a while.
“I had this game circled and now today is the day,” he said. “I’m just excited to be here and to try to take it all in and get the most out of it.”
Often, NBA players returning to play in their hometowns have a little more nerves than usual. If Telfair did, he did a great job of downplaying it. “It’s gonna be the same thing, same rim, same basketball,” he said. “Other than a little pressure from your family being here and being from here… it’s the same thing.”
Telfair’s superior quickness, vision, ball handling, and basketball lineage made him a star as a young player Brooklyn.
In 2004, he realized his dream when the Portland Trailblazers selected him with the 13th overall pick. And though his career has seen him make stops in cities such as Boston, Minnesota and Cleveland, Telfair still makes his offseason home in Westchester and keeps close contact with his family that still resides in Brooklyn.
He’s stayed involved in the community by sponsoring basketball tournaments and camps that his family helps to organize.
In all, Telfair had about 40 of his friends and family members on hand for his Brooklyn debut. And even though his Suns walked away from Barclays Center without a win, he’ll always remember his first pro game in Brooklyn.
“It felt good. I was excited out there, I felt a little extra bouncy,” Telfair said after his Suns dropped a 99-79 decision to the Nets. “The first experience was pretty cool. I wish we would have gotten a win, but the game didn’t go exactly how we wanted it to go. I wish I would have been a little more aggressive over the course of the game.”
When asked if he was looking forward to returning next season, Telfair said he was. “Absolutely,” he said. “This is going to be a place that I always mark the calendar on. To get the opportunity in front of my family, my hometown, it’s a unique place and I’m happy for that experience here.”
Telfair became the first player in history to win three PSAL titles and broke Kenny Anderson’s all-time New York state high school scoring record. Telfair ended his career with a record-setting 2,785 points.
That record, though, would be short-lived. And interestingly enough, it was the Indiana Pacers’ Lance Stephenson who broke it.
Stephenson graduated from Telfair’s alma mater five years later. By the time he did, he amassed 2,946 career points. It was somewhat ironic that Stephenson—Telfair’s junior by five years—would play in Brooklyn for the first time the very next game after him.
Stephenson spoke with the media before his debut, as well. “I never thought we would have an arena in Brooklyn,” Stephenson said before the game. “I feel great, especially playing in front of my family and friends. I’m happy I’m playing back home and just wanna have fun.”
When asked whether he misses playing in New York, Stephenson agreed. “Of course,” he said. “This is back home. This is where I was born and this is where I got my name.” And like Telfair, he had this game circled on his calendar long before it was played.
Unlike his predecessor, Stephenson “only” had about 30 guests on hand. And according to him, they were looking forward to Jan. 13 just as much as he was.
The Pacers have slowly become one of the conference’s better teams even as it tries to forge a new identity without all-star small forward Danny Granger. Stephenson, now in his third year, is a major part of their success. Entering play on Jan. 13, the Pacers had gone 9-2 over their past 11 games and Stephenson has averaged 10.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game over that stretch.
“[I] just try to be a smart player, be a factor on the team, play team ball,” Stephenson said of his recently improved play. “[I] just try to do the little things so I can stay on the floor and help us win games… watching film, getting with the coaches, learning where to be on the floor on defense.”
Despite being a high-profile prep star, questions about Stephenson’s maturity caused his stock to slide. Back in 2010, despite being considered a lottery level talent, he wouldn’t be selected by the Pacers until 40th overall.
He’s seemingly put those concerns behind him, though, and has recently shown signs of becoming a solid NBA professional.
Unfortunately for Stephenson, his Brooklyn debut would be short-lived. He managed to play just seven minutes in the first quarter but couldn’t continue due to a toe injury he sustained in the Pacers previous game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
“I hurt my toe last game and I couldn’t finish off tonight,” he said. “It still felt good to be here, though… I just couldn’t be myself and I couldn’t play.”
Without him, the Pacers lost a 97-86 decision to the Nets.
Even though the two former Railsplitters lost in their debuts, each was happy to have an experience in Brooklyn that they’ll never forget.
And ironically enough, Telfair and Stephenson dressed in the same stall in the visitor’s locker room at Barclays.
When told, Stephenson thought it was a funny conincidence. Hustling away to meet up with his friends and family, he thought about it for a second, smirked and responded.
“It’s a Brooklyn thing,” he said.
Though Telfair and Stephenson are each making their careers elsewhere, they both have Brooklyn pride. On Jan. 11 and 13, the two Brooklynites played their first NBA games in their hometown.
And now, since the NBA has found a home in Brooklyn, we can rest assured that for Telfair and Stephenson, it won’t be their last.
With Dan Kelly contributing.