NEW YORK– Basketball is one of the biggest sports in the United States, and across the world. In the USA alone, there are dozens of levels of basketball with millions of players, from high school all the way to the NBA. As a result, many players are overlooked despite their impressive stats. Among those is junior college sophomore Kevin Stein. Stein, a New York native and of Puerto Rican descent, has stepped into a major role for SUNY Orange County Junior College, since his first day as a freshman.
But Stein’s basketball career began long before that. He noted that he had been playing since he was a little kid, in his local park:
“I grew up just playing basketball outside with my friends,” Stein said. “The courts was where I learned to really love basketball.”
Similarly, his Boricua identity was important to him from a young age, and always remains a part of his life. “Growing up and being around my family naturally made me proud to be Puerto Rican,” he said.
But Stein didn’t just love basketball: he was a dual-sport athlete, playing both basketball and football throughout high school. Then, he ultimately chose basketball because he simply enjoyed everything about it more.
“So for me it was pretty obvious which sport I was going to pursue in college,” he explained.
Stein has started 45 of 45 games for Orange County in his career there, having missed zero games and logging an average of 31.6 minutes per game. What made him choose Orange County originally was the team he knew he was going to be surrounded by, which “definitely influenced [his] decision.”
Stein immediately impressed in his freshman season, averaging 16.9 points to go alongside six rebounds and a whopping 9.5 assists per game (and 199 on the season–ranking fifth in the nation). He not only made an impact on all sides of the court, but was efficient in doing so, with shooting splits of 52.6/45.7/76.7 on the year. Orange County was nearly unstoppable all year, going 19-2 overall.
But their achilles heel–and what ended their season–was Sullivan County, the team responsible for both of their losses, including an 83-66 loss on February 27th, 2022, to end Stein and Orange County’s hopes of winning the East A District Championship, and reaching the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) Division-II tournament.
This year, however, SUNY-Orange County is clearly out for revenge. They have yet to lose, and are led by a pair of scorers in Stein, and the nation’s leading scorer (in NJCAA D-II play) in guard Romeo Aquino, who is currently averaging 24.8 points per game.
The team has been completely unstoppable, with a 24-0 (8-0) record with a virtually perfect offense, which averages a whopping 99.5 points per game.
Stein attributed their impressive season to the team’s mentality: “We don’t care who gets the credit. We all are focused on winning… We all are on the same page in terms of what we want to accomplish, so I think it helps us focus.”
The squad looks to keep up their undefeated season and hold their spot in the D-II rankings as the fourth best team in the country, with two games remaining on their schedule against Dutchess and Clarks Summit to end the season before the playoffs begin.
Playing alongside Aquino has caused a slight drop in Stein’s stats: as a sophomore; he’s averaging 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists, on 43.8/41.4/85.9 shooting splits. But, of course, Stein remains a huge factor as the second leading scorer, one of the biggest leaders for the team, and has had his moments, including a huge 34-point performance on 50% shooting.
Although he’s focused on the task at hand for this season (that is, a national tournament berth and potential championship), he is similarly looking forward to his future in basketball past Orange County. He plans to continue playing at a four-year college starting next year, and parlay that into potentially playing on a professional level.
“Ultimately to play basketball for a living is the goal,” he said.
Stein’s Latino background is an important part of his life and basketball career as well. Playing in a sport with so few Latinos makes Stein’s role all that more significant and impactful for the younger generation to hopefully go out and participate in playing basketball.
Players such as Stein are part of a larger Latino movement in basketball across the United States.
Stein emphasized how proud he is to represent Latinos: “Being able to represent a small group of Puerto Ricans in the game of basketball is a blessing.”
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