Gavin Stephenson was admittedly perplexed. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound combo guard played well for Crusader Nation on the AAU circuit over the summer, but attention from college programs was surprisingly minimal.
“I would text [Crusader Nation] coach [Fred McCathorine] all the time -- ‘You hear anything? You hear anything?’ I only got a couple calls from a couple schools,” Stephenson said. “I was starting to get nervous. Then during the season, I only heard from a few schools.”
Midway through his senior season at Atholton, Stephenson, who spent his first three years of high school at Mount St. Joseph, said that he began to explore the possibility of attending prep school next year. But thanks to a “very random” connection that finally put him on the Division I radar, Stephenson won’t have to look into post-grad options any more. On Monday, he accepted a scholarship offer from the Virginia Military Institute.
“It’s a relief to finally find out where I’m going and have the weight off my shoulders for the rest of the year,” said Stephenson, who was also recruited by Louisiana-Monroe, NJIT and Robert Morris. “VMI came and they liked me a lot. I jumped at the opportunity.”
Stephenson, who averaged 23 points for the Raiders (14-10) this season, was recommended to the Keydets’ staff by a friend of his coach’s son. VMI sent a coach to scout Stephenson during Atholton’s game at Wilde Lake in February, and the first-team All-Howard County selection responded with 27 points and six assists. Stephenson later worked out with his trainer in front of a VMI coach, and was then invited to take an official visit to the Big South school.
Heading into his official trip, Stephenson said his biggest questions pertained to life at a military school. The answers he got proved to be sufficient.
“When I went on my official, [the military aspect of the school] didn’t seem like a big deal,” Stephenson said. “It seemed more like a positive. I’ll be more focused. … I would have to wake up at about 7 to do formations. Then, as an athlete, I would get out of stuff during the middle of the day because of practice. Then [we do] formations before dinner. But we have to wear uniforms. I went to St. Joe’s, so a uniform is nothing to me. I would have to keep my room tidy, keep it clean. That’s not really a big deal to me. [Having a] shaved head, not a big deal to me. It’s just very disciplined.”
While his mother and brother both “fell in love” with VMI’s campus, Stephenson fit right in with the team. He was impressed by the up-tempo style of play – a perfect fit for the Washington Post honorable mention All-Met selection.
“[The coaches] said they’re looking for guys to come in and play right away,” Stephenson said. “I was playing pickup with the guys. I fit in pretty well. They played a lot of subs. So [the coach] said they do a lot of different lineups. Hopefully I’ll play a pretty decent role. Obviously I’ll have to play my way into it.”
Stephenson said he plans to study business and economics at VMI. He’ll enroll in classes for the summer session and get started early on his life as a Keydet. While he never expected to end up at a military school – “not in a million years” – Stephenson said he’s excited for the challenge.
“It’s definitely surreal,” he said. “I was stressing, actually stressing for weeks and months. Now that it’s here, it’s just like, wow. I don’t even know. It still doesn’t even feel like I chose the school and committed. Then I’m going to be signing Wednesday. … It’s weird how things work out. But I’m just looking forward to it. I can’t wait.”