To imply that American University forward Stephen Lumpkins would not being playing basketball for the Eagles this season had it not been for head coach Jeff Jones‘ hip replacement this summer might be a bit of an overstatement.
However, a connection can be made to the sequence of events that led to Lumpkins’ return to the Eagles roster after leaving – seemingly for good — in June 2011 for what he thought were greener pastures.
Before we focus on Lumpkins’ return, lets address the reason for his initial departure.
After averaging 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game his junior season, Lumpkins, who was also viewed by major league baseball as a 6-foot-8, left-handed pitching commodity, was drafted in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft.Lumpkins had been down this road before, having been selected in the 42nd round by the Pirates the previous season, but the money and the lure was not right for him to make the jump.
In 2011, however, a 13th round selection by the Kansas City Royals and a contract offer that included a $150,000 signing bonus plus the promise of paying for his final year of education, was too much to pass up.
The June decision to give baseball a shot blindsided Jones and the American program. In hindsight, both parties agree that the situation could have been handled better. But some of the parameters made that virtually impossible.
“When I made the decision to play baseball, obviously coach Jones was not happy,” Lumpkins recalled. “I wasn’t expecting to get drafted as high as I was and it happened alot faster than I thought it would.”
“I was happy at American and I was getting ready for my senior year and then I got picked in the 13th round and had like a week to decide. I was forced to make a tough decision.”
The season and a half the Redwood, California native spent in the Royals rookie league were not out of a Hollywood script.
While he had kept close to the sport with summer stints back home and in a New England League, it did not translate to minor league success with the Kansas City organization.
After struggling to a plus-8 ERA over parts of two seasons of rookie ball, Lumpkins had already made the decision to register for classes this fall and make good on a promise to his parents to complete his business degree.
Then he faced the tougher task of approaching Jones about a return to college basketball. As Jones was being wheeled from recovery to his hospital room following August 1 surgery, his wife received a text from assistant coach Kieran Donohue inquiring whether Lumpkins would be welcomed back into the fold.
“I think what he was doing was trying to get a hold of me while I was still drugged up,” Jones joked during Patriot League Media Day. “He was afraid that I might still be angry over the fact that he left.”
Before approaching the coaching staff, Lumpkins worked out on his own to convince himself that his feel for the game had not dissipated during the time away.
Jones believes that it is easier for a post player to jump back in to the fray than a perimeter player, but he thinks that the time away from the sport benefited Lumpkins in other ways.
“He has been great,” Jones said. “I think the that maybe riding around on buses on the minor league circuit gave him an appreciation of what he has got here. He has come back and been one of the hardest workers. He is more vocal than he was and shown great leadership. I think he is really enjoying himself.”
The early returns are good, as Lumpkins leads the Eagles (1-1) with 14 points and 7 rebounds per game, heading into tonight’s home opener against Mt. Saint Mary’s.
“Baseball, obviously, wasn’t working my way,” Lumpkins said. “It was alot harder than I thought to catch up from the years of not playing. Being back playing basketball kind of makes me appreciate it alot more and I am definitely enjoying it alot more.”
* * *