With an unprecedented regular season winding down for the Lafayette men’s basketball team, senior guard E.J. Stephens is looking to add some personal accolades in his final season.
The team has dealt with several postponements and cancellations due to COVID-19 outbreaks on other campuses in the Patriot League. In an effort to keep the teams playing, the Leopards have faced Loyola Maryland six times this season, out of 14 total games.
“The season is going well, but it also has been a little frustrating not being able to play sometimes,” Stephens said. “It’s been a blessing that we’ve even been able to play as much as we have, because some schools had their season shut down. We’ve been taking advantage of what we can play.”
Coming from Plantation, Fla., Stephens recounted that Lafayette’s atmosphere during the recruitment process was something that drew him to the campus.
“I liked the family atmosphere they had at Lafayette, and it just seemed sincere on my visit and talking on the phone. The high academic aspect was also something I was looking for in a school,” Stephens said. “Coming from Florida, I love the environment. The campus is beautiful, and getting to experience all four seasons is a bonus.”
At Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, Stephens was an asset to his team – serving as captain in his junior and senior years. He led the team in made three-pointers and points, scoring 20 per game. Additionally, Stephens made the Principal’s Honor Roll in his final two years, carrying a GPA higher than a 4.0, and helped out with the South Florida Disciples youth basketball team.
“My dad played basketball in high school when he was growing up. He taught me when I was five or six years old,” Stephens said. “He’s the main reason I started playing. He’s my biggest fan and my motivation.”
“Everything I do is for him, my mom, and my family in general,” he added. “He’s the reason why I started playing.”
Stephens also followed in his parent’s footsteps academically, majoring in psychology as they both did in college.
It didn’t take long for Stephens to hit his stride at Lafayette, as he appeared in all games but one in his freshman year, and jumped from starting in three games in his rookie season to 18 of the 26 games his sophomore year.
In his 2019-2020 season, Stephens’s junior year, he scored a career-high 27 points against Boston University on Feb. 19, and was one of the 10 Leopards selected to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll with a 3.6 GPA.
This season, Stephens has already scored 30 or more twice.
“I never even scored 30 points in high school, so it’s something I was really proud of,” Stephens said. “To do it twice was pretty cool, and I think that’s probably my biggest accomplishment.”
But Stephens still has goals he wants to accomplish before this senior season comes to an end.
“I want to make First Team All-Conference,” he said. “Up until this point, I haven’t had many personal accolades, so I have a little chip on my shoulder. The team wins first, but I think I have a good shot at it.”
During this unorthodox season, Stephens said he is thankful to have his teammates’ support both on and off the court.
“My teammates have been more than friends, they are brothers who I’ll stay in contact with for the rest of my life,” Stephens said. “Obviously you get that coming into college in general, but I think we’ve spent a lot of time with each other every day, so we just formed that bond. That’s something I love about playing basketball, and I’ll cherish forever.”
The Leopards currently hold a 7-5 overall record for the regular season, finishing many games with close margins and working hard on the defensive side.
“Defense is something we’ve been trying to harp on all year. I think so far this is the most talented team we’ve had since I’ve been at Lafayette,” Stephens said. “If we can hold teams to less than 60 points a game, I don’t see anybody beating us.”
Despite sitting at the second-highest average points per game for the Leopards at a 16.9, Stephens has proven to be a strong defender for Lafayette as well. He leads the team with 53 defensive rebounds on the season.
“[Junior guard] Tyrone Perry and I both prioritize defense so that’s something we focus a lot on. I think we feed off each other defensively and offensively,” Stephens said. “He’s another Florida boy, so we have that connection as well.”
Be on the lookout for Stephens this weekend as the Leopards take on rival Lehigh in their last two games of the regular season. Tomorrow’s game will be broadcasted on ESPN with a 4 p.m. start time.