College Basketball

Coach’s talk spurred JCSU’s Stedmon Lemon to step up

Johnson C. Smith's Stedmon Lemon, practicing Monday, has been one of the CIAA's hottest players the past month.
Johnson C. Smith's Stedmon Lemon, practicing Monday, has been one of the CIAA's hottest players the past month. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

A heart-to-heart talk over Christmas break turned Stedmon Lemon’s season around.

The J.C. Smith forward wasn’t meeting Golden Bulls head coach Steve Joyner’s preseason expectations, which Joyner expressed in the clearest of terms.

“I wasn’t imposing my will as much as I should have. I was taking a back seat,” Lemon said. “He was talking about things he wanted me to do, so when I came back I had a different focus, like how to be a leader on offense and defense, that player we can look to.”

Lemon didn’t look back, becoming J.C. Smith’s (14-13, 8-8 CIAA) most consistent player on both ends of the floor. He was the only Golden Bull named all-CIAA by averaging 14.4 points per game and connecting on 53.1 percent of his field goal attempts. Part of it was because of necessity with two-time all-conference forward Emilio Parks struggling with a knee injury.

“We had our rough patches with Emilio being out with his injury at the beginning of the season, and we were struggling trying to find our identity,” Lemon said. “I knew at that point I was definitely going to have to step up more.

Lemon was especially good against league competition, averaging 17.4 points per game. The all-conference honor was a surprise, especially in his first season at J.C. Smith.

“It was kind of a shock,” he said.

As Lemon progressed, so did the Golden Bulls, who went 5-2 to close the regular season. Freshman point guard Robert Davis, who averaged 7.9 points and 5.0 assists per game, and shooting guard Diondre Pratt (11.2 ppg) stepped up to bolster the offense, while Parks (14.6 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game) returned to form.

“I feel we started to click more down the stretch,” Lemon said. “We’re figuring out who we are, but as far as team goals, we definitely didn’t meet them.”

J.C. Smith will need Lemon at his best starting Wednesday at the conference tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Golden Bulls have been inconsistent, especially on defense, but Lemon sees the tournament as an opportunity to make amends despite earning the South Division’s fourth seed.

“It’s a whole new season,” he said. “Our team as a whole, our school as a whole, got no (postseason) awards. We sat through a whole banquet and heard Johnson C. Smith get called one time and that was for me. We felt we’re so much better than that. We need to prove and show that our fans deserve more, the university deserves more.”

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