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It started with a stepback three-pointer on the left wing, a feathery jumper that didn’t touch the net, just tickling twine.
Later, it was a steal, a deft left hand poking the ball away, the senior grabbing it with his right hand, going behind the back to his left, then coast-to-coast for a scoop off the glass with his right hand. Then another long jumper, cleanly dropping through the net.
Two plays later, it was a quick crossover, left to right, leaving his man in his wake, then setting up teammate Isiah Stokley for an uncontested layup.
These were just examples of the kind of all-around afternoon Stephon Hodges enjoyed against Princeton Day Academy (Md.) last Saturday — a 17-point, five-assist, six-steal performance that led Edison to a much-needed 78-62 non-league victory.
It was proof, against a high-caliber opponent, of what everyone around Hodges had been saying for weeks — the smooth jumper, quick hands, natural instincts and pretty handle are all part of the repertoire that isn’t displayed enough.
“If he realizes his potential,” Stokley said, “he can do this every game.”
He’s doing it recently. No more passing off shots. No more letting teammates, less experienced and less talented ones, be responsible for Edison’s fate. Hodges has taken the mantle.
And rightfully so. For while Stokley, Edison’s leading scorer, is the vocal leader, he is still new to the Inventors, having transferred in last December from Martin Van Buren.
The 6-foot Hodges was the one who has been instrumental in Edison’s rise, from afterthought to Queens champion and PSAL semifinalist. He was the one who sat as a freshman on varsity, watched the Inventors go 2-12. He was the one, with backcourt mate and longtime friend Allan Thomas, who led Edison to that shocking run to the Queens crown, knocking off Cardozo and Campus Magnet. He was there when they made it all the way to St. John’s, nearly upsetting No. 2 Boys & Girls in the semis.
“We have to make sure we keep going up,” the Flushing resident said.
Yet, so often, he hasn’t looked the part. It didn’t seem like he was improving. His numbers dramatically fell off last year after averaging 10 points and five assists as a sophomore; he struggled in Edison’s first year in Queens AA, his scoring dropping under double digits. Of course, the role of a point guard isn’t to score, but that was always the beauty of Hodges — he could do both, distribute and fill it up.
At least, that’s what everyone thought watching his shred the borough’s supposed best his sophomore year. Even this season, his senior year, didn’t start out as planned. He was shaky in a dismal season-opening loss to Boys & Girls, turned the ball over too much in an embarrassing 39-point shellacking to Bishop Loughlin and didn’t show up in a seven-point loss to Xaverian when Stokley was out for two quarters with an injury.
“He shut down,” Edison Coach John Ulmer said. “I brought it to his attention.”
Days before that setback, the Inventors found out Josh Gray, a talented transfer from Long Island City High School, was deemed ineligible by the PSAL. Later that week, promising freshman point guard Jevon Thomas failed off the team.
“We needed Stephon to do more,” Stokley said.
The immediate response has been overwhelming. He had 26 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a win over William Bryant; 15 points in a win over Beach Channel; and the all-around effort over PDA. Through six league games — all wins — he is scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out six assists.
“That’s one thing I’ve been working on — being more aggressive and taking charge,” he said. “There were games where I can take over and games where I just sit back. I’m trying to be more consistent.”
Added Ulmer: “I told him you can’t be happy with seven or eight points a game. … He easily could be scoring 20 per game.”
Last year, there were others that carried the scoring load; his job was to get them the ball in the right places. But Stokley admitted Hodges “let us down with mental lapses” last year. Hodges admitted he would beat himself up during games for mistakes and fade into the background.
Hodges lost confidence his freshman year. He was a star in junior high school, the proverbial big fish in a little pond. But in high school, he found himself coming off the bench for a cellar-dweller. When he was in the game, he hesitated, afraid to shoot for fear of missing.
“I would blank out on the court,” he said.
More than any jumper or crossover, it is that area that Stokley has noticed a difference in Hodges. His demeanor on the court is better; no longer does he drop his head in disappointment after missing a shot or Edison has fallen behind. It has allowed him to become a leader, the silent type to the vociferous Stokley. In practice, Hodges said, he gets into guys who can take it, demanding full effort.
“He talks to guys individually about their potential,” Stokley said.
Hodges has taken sophomore Kris Owens, who was the JV team’s leading scorer last winter, under his wing. He sees himself in the youngster, who he calls “The Future.”
“He’s like a big brother to me,” Owens said. “He tells me what to do on the court and off the court.”
As for Hodges’ future, it is very much up in the air. He doesn’t do much traveling on the AAU circuit and Edison has just come into college coaches’ focus. Hodges has drawn interest from Norfolk State, Binghamton and Central Arkansas. But he wouldn’t mind going to a Division II school either with a strong computer science program — his other passion besides basketball — either.
For now, that is secondary. He has a basketball season to complete, more chapters to add to his story. Hodges is ready for his final year of high school basketball, intent to put an exclamation point on his Edison career.
“I still have,” Hodges said, “a lot more to prove.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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