Myles Stephens ’19 began last year on the bench for the men’s basketball team.
The 6-foot-5 forward ended it as a first-team All-Ivy League selection, the Ivy Defensive Player of the Year, and the Most Valuable Player of the inaugural Ivy League Tournament.
“I always used to say to Myles, even when he was a freshman, ‘Don’t be afraid to be the best player,’” said head coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “We all could see it. It’s obvious right away that he is the best defender. He is the best defender in the league and was recognized as such, and is one of the best players.”
Stephens’ breakout sophomore year was the most significant development in the Tigers’ unbeaten Ivy championship season, and it set him up to be a team leader this year.
“Now there’s an expectation that not only do you do your very best, but now you have to bring up the level of everyone,” Henderson said. “There’s more of an expectation now from Myles that he holds others accountable to his level, and that can be a really different thing. He’s evolving into that person on the court.”
Stephens is becoming more than the “silent assassin,” as Yale head coach James Jones described him after the Ivy championship game, a 71–59 Tigers win.
“Being one of the guys with more on-court experience,” Stephens said, “I want to be a better leader on and off the court, but especially on the court, being more vocal.”
Stephens’ humility and easygoing personality had already made him popular with teammates. “He’s a leader in the community, he’s a leader on the team, he’s responsible and guys can count on him,” Henderson said. “He’s got the ability to laugh at himself and along with others. That’s a good quality.”
Stephens grew up in nearby Lawrenceville, attending Princeton games and summer camps. He was playing pick-up with Tiger players in Jadwin Gym as a 16-year-old. After spending his final two years of high school at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware, enrolling at Princeton felt like a homecoming, he said.
Stephens brought energy off the bench as a freshman, and he was a valued reserve in the first eight games last year before a season-ending injury to Henry Caruso ’17, Princeton’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, made Stephens a starter. What followed was a steady upward trajectory as Stephens, already a shut-down defender, became a handful for opposing defenses as well.
Defense played a key role in Stephens’ recruitment. As a high-school junior, he blew away the Tigers’ staff when he matched up against future NBA draft pick Ben Bentil. He credits his defensive prowess to his father, Tony, who had been a top defender for Georgia Southern.
“My dad always said if I’m not playing well, work hard on defense and my defense will get my offense going,” Stephens said. “Sometimes you get a steal or a big block or a nice stop on D, and you can feel the energy on defense, and that kind of leads to offense.”
Stephens saw his offensive numbers erupt last year, with his scoring average climbing from 5.5 to 12.5 points per game. He shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range and nearly quadrupled the number of 3-pointers he made — a reward for countless summer hours shooting in Jadwin with fellow New Jersey native Amir Bell ’18.
Stephens scored 21 points in the Tigers’ opener, an 85-75 loss at Butler Nov. 12. Princeton, which starts Ivy play Jan. 5 at Penn, was one of three teams to receive first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll, ranking third behind Harvard and Yale.