basketball Edit

Stevenson hoping to realize potential in last season in Lubbock

22 points, 10 rebounds. 21 points, 6 rebounds. 17 points, 6 rebounds. 17 points, 7 rebounds.

Those were the primary stat lines for Texas Tech guard Niem Stevenson against Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, and Iowa State last season in a stretch of February games. He finally flashed all that talent that had Cincinnati, Oregon, Texas A&M, and Kansas interested. He was driving the lane as well as any guard in the Big 12, and he was hitting big shots for the Red Raiders, matching the output of his most productive teammates.

Stevenson appeared to have finally hit his stride after a mostly-quiet start through the first two thirds of his first season in Lubbock. But then, the production vanished. He had 2, 5, 11, and 6 points in Tech's final four contests, and the drop off had many Red Raiders scratching their heads.

Rumblings that the former JUCO All-American might not return for his senior season began to surface early in the offseason. The spring and summer went by without a peep, and Stevenson was still a member of Chris Beard's team heading into year two.

And as the head coach will tell it, it was an offseason that could get his basketball career and personal life back on track.

"With Niem, it's been a real soul-searching offseason," said Beard. "He's improved more mentally than he has physically. Niem and I had some real honest conversations after the season that extended all the way through the summer about our team, about his future, and about him individually, and he's answered the call. From time to time, I think I heard the other day that I gave Niem a second chance. That's not true. Niem gave himself a second chance. Everything Niem's done to this point has gotten him back on track, and as of today he's our starting shooting guard."

The transition from junior college to Division one basketball is rarely an easy one to make. It's a task often wrought with reality checks and lessons, which Stevenson learned firsthand.

"The lessons I learned - well, you know I came in from JUCO, and the Big 12 is just a lot tougher. There's more talent, and it's a faster pace. I've just got to be a smarter player," said the senior guard. "Limiting my turnovers, being a better defender, and just being there for my teammates. I know it's not about me."

Being selfish is something that won't fly in Chris Beard's basketball program, and Stevenson understands that now. He understood that changing his regimen, both on the court and off it, simply had to happen if he was going to leave behind the legacy he wanted in college basketball.

"I've just bought in. It's been about spending more time in the gym, working on time management, off the court habits with what I'm doing. I know this is my last year, and I just have to prove to myself that I deserve to be here."

And it's obvious that Stevenson has talent. Plenty of it. His head coach had a first row seat through the Dallas native's four game blitz of the toughest opponents in the Big 12.

"I sat here many a night with him sitting right here next to me where he had 18, 20, 22 point games in the toughest league in college basketball, so now what we're looking for is consistency," said Coach Beard. "To me, consistency is about discipline, and Niem has had a great summer and offseason. I'm looking forward to coaching him this year."

One of the biggest obstacles this Red Raider team faced in 2016-17 was coming up just short in tight contests. A layup here or a missed rebound there were the only things separating Tech basketball from making an NCAA Tournament appearance. Stevenson got to experience that first hand, and he pointed out that they get a daily reminder of it.

"We've got a wristband that says 'Finish', and after every workout we just do a finish. It's all about those last two minutes. We know we need to finish."

And for Stevenson, finishing what he flashed is goal number one.