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#TGW: Long-Distance Beginning

June 20, 2017

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– If Quinton Stephens proved anything in his four years at Georgia Tech, it was that he was always ready and always ready for anything.

Need him to play small forward? Need him to play power forward? Need him to rebound? Need him to score? Need him to dive on the floor or into the crowd for a loose ball? Stephens was ready and would do it without thinking twice.

That flexibility and willingness to perform and adapt to any situation is about to pay off as he embarks on his pro career.

It allowed him to navigate a seven-day period that was crazy even by the standards of what he went through during the 2016-17 season, a year that saw the improbable at McCamish Pavilion and pretty much everywhere Georgia Tech went. The odyssey began in Atlanta saw a lightning-quick trip to Charlotte, N.C., and back and today will conclude with him landing in China, where he’s scheduled to stay for the next three months and lay the foundation for a successful career playing pro ball.

Flashback to last Tuesday afternoon.

“I finished my workout, and I got a call from my agent saying, `Hey, the Hornets want you to come up there.’ I was like, `When?’ He was like, `The day after the next,'” Stephens recalled, with a laugh. “We got the flight situated and took MARTA to the airport. [The Hornets] took care of me, got me to the hotel. It went smoothly. I came back the next day right after the workout, and later that afternoon I was back in Atlanta. It was a quick turnaround, but that’s how it is. A lot of guys are traveling. Some guys don’t really get to come home. They just go from one workout to the next. But the opportunity, just to be able to get some feedback and show what I can do was awesome.”

While in Charlotte, Stephens worked out with former Clemson rivals forward Jaron Blossomgame, and guard Avry Holmes, South Carolina guard P.J. Dozier, Southeast Missouri State guard Antonius Cleveland and Creighton center Justin Patton. He had what he considered a solid workout, played 3-on-3 teaming with his ACC cohorts, and really felt at home in the NBA facility.

“I really enjoyed it. The guys I played with were really competitive. The coaching staff there really pushed us, and I think they liked me,” he said. “They said I shot the ball really well, they said I was very competitive and they liked my attitude both on and off the court. So I appreciate that I knew I gave it my all, and I felt good about my performance.

“I was shooting a free throw after the workout and I was like, `Man, I could see myself doing this for a while,'” he added, with a smile.

But Stephens won’t just be sitting by the phone waiting for his agent to call with the next workout. He’s headed somewhere even more exotic.

Q’s off to China, where he’ll spend the next three months training with the Shenzhen Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Being able to be watched by a CBA team is awesome,” he said of getting to train with the Leopards, who went 26-12 last season, finishing sixth in the 20-team league and reaching the semifinals. “An opportunity like this is very uncommon for rookies, to be invited out to a CBA team. That’s one of the top leagues in the world behind the NBA. So to get an opportunity like this is very rare and I want to make the most of it.”

He actually received an invitation to make the trip to China a couple of weeks back, via his connection with The Skill Factory, located in Marietta. The Skill Factory worked with the Leopards when they did an exhibition tour of the U.S. and this was part of the strong relationship they’ve built.

Stephens did his homework, talking with former Wake Forest guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, who did a similar workout with the Leopards last summer, and childhood friend and former DII Player of the Year Keenan Palmore, who’d spent two weeks playing on a traveling tour of China. He then accepted the invitation to make the three-month commitment to Guangdong Province.

“It would be all expenses paid. They’d take care of my apartment, take care of the flight, food, everything, and they’ll pay me on top of that just for working with their team,” he said. “Then, afterwards, potentially I could get a contract with them. But I still have to take care of business.”

There are drawbacks, like the 12-hour time difference and having to learn a language (Mandarin), but Stephens feels he’s ready for both.

“I’ve looked up a few things, but we’re going to have a translator, and I’m going to be on my phone a lot using Google Translate if need be,” he said with a laugh.

Traveling with former Florida State forward Jarquez Smith and George Mason guard Isaiah Tate, as well as one of the Skill Factory’s coaches, also should help in getting adjusted to the new surroundings.

One area in which he doesn’t foresee much of an adjustment will be on the court.

“We’ll have a translator, but I believe that the coach there speaks English, at least the head coach (Qun Li),” he said. “Either way, the basket’s 10 feet high, the ball’s still round, and I’m excited about it. Five-on-five, whatever it is, one-on-one, it doesn’t matter. I’m going out there to dominate. I’m doing what I do and I’m going to enjoy doing it.

“[Palmore] enjoyed his experience and said the people love basketball,” he added. “They REALLY love basketball.”

There’s also an affinity for Georgia Tech basketball, which will open its 2017-18 season in Beijing, playing UCLA, and for former Yellow Jacket Stephon Marbury, who’s been there since 2010 and led Beijing to three championships, winning a CBA Foreign MVP and a CBA Finals MVP award.

“He’s a GOD over there,” said Stephens, with a laugh. “I’m trying to get in touch with him now. That would be great just to get some insight from him. I know it’s his last season over there coming up but, man, I would love to meet him.

“I talked to Coach (Darryl) LaBarrie and he said, he’s definitely open to meeting up with me,” he added. “He wants to see Georgia Tech guys do well. So to have that connection is awesome, and it just goes to show the network that Georgia Tech has.”

Stephens has dotted all of the `I’s and crossed all the `T’s and will have a 24-plus-hour flight to ponder the possibilities that lie ahead.

“The professional world is on the move, and I’m enjoying it right now,” he said. “It’s like, `Man, this is REALLY happening.’ China’s always been a place I’ve wanted to play.”

Stephens has the flexibility to come back to the States for an NBA tryout or accept an offer from a league in another country, but for now, his goal is a full-time contract in China.

“I want to show them what I can do. I’m trying to make them offer me a contract after it’s all said and done, which was something that Codi was able to do,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there. I just have to be ready for it. Who knows? I didn’t know that the Hornets were going to want me to come up there. You just have to be ready, and I feel that I’ll be ready.

“It will be a bit of a change, a bit of a shift and something that I’m just going to have to embrace, but my family definitely supports me. They’re excited for me,” he added. “I know my nephew’s a little sad — you know you get a summer to yourself, and then this comes up and you’re like, `This is my JOB. I’ve got to go make some money, make a name for myself, and play in a respected league so I can continue my career.’ It’s a great opportunity. They understand that.”


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