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Swingman D.J. Stephens is ready to leave his mark in Japan

Tom Ballato The Next Prospect
By: Tom Ballato

Swingman D.J. Stephens, who played for Ukrainian club Prometey for the past three seasons, is now part of the Chiba Jets of the Japanese B.League.

In 2013, the former Memphis Tiger began his career overseas in Greece. He left early to sign a 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. After not receiving a second 10-day contract, Stephens finished his first professional season in Turkey. 

Stephens has played in multiple countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Puerto Rico, France, Bahrain, and the NBA Development League (now G League). In 2018, almost three and a half years later, Stephens returned to the NBA, signing a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Stephens appeared in one NBA game, a testament to his determination to return to the league.

The Chiba Jets are getting a 32-year-old who slashes, plays above the rim, and is an excellent defender and three-point shooter. Most importantly, Stephens is a winner and has won multiple championships overseas.

D.J. Stephens took the time to answer a few questions about his time with the Ukrainian club Prometey and Japan. 

What are you looking forward to the most about playing in the Japanese B. League? 

Stephens: I mean, it’s a few things in one answer. Championships are always something I strive for every season. I want to help bring a few to this club. I also want to continue to grow as a player and perform at a high level. 

DJ Stephens Chiba Jets
Photo courtesy of D.J.Stephens.

What offers were you considering before you decided to head to Japan? 

Stephens: Going back to Prometey was an option. Certain teams were inquiring about me, but the money they were willing to offer wasn’t in the range of what I’m worth now. I was getting some interest from a couple of EuroLeague teams, but at the time I decided to go to Chiba, they hadn’t offered yet. 

This deal (with Chiba) had been in the works for a while. 

You won a Ukrainian and Latvian-Estonian League championship, but your season was cut short in 2021-2022 due to the war. How would you describe your time with Prometey? 

Stephens: I enjoyed my time there. I feel like I helped build something special and helped make it into a name respected across Europe. The year everything ended because of the war. It was hectic because we were undefeated in the local league and on the verge of a Top 8 in the Champions League. Basically, all that hard work to mean nothing in the end; it was a huge disappointment to me. 

The Japanese B. League is a strong league filled with talented Americans and domestic talent. Since you’ve signed with Chiba, what has been the feedback so far?

Stephens: I mean, so far, the fan support has been crazy, and I’ve heard we have one of the best fan bases in Japan, so I’m looking forward to playing in front of them. I’m also just looking forward to going out there and having fun trying to win a championship.

You were named to the All-EuroCup First Team last season. What work have you been putting in to improve on a great season?

Stephens: I mean, just staying in the gym. I’m continuing to stay polished in the areas I’m already great at, but I’m trying to keep growing in the areas I need to improve. I think that’s how I’ve always been able to improve each year. Just keep trying to get better each summer.

Have any of your American teammates or friends who have played in Japan reached out to you about playing there?

Stephens:  Quite a few guys I know. I reached out to them to ask what they thought about the league and how it was playing out there. I heard all great things. Jack Cooley, Quincy Miller, Stanton Kidd, Amath M’baye, Evan Ravenel, and there may be more, but I can’t think of them all at the moment reached out. 

Stephens is ready to compete in the Japanese B.League, featuring a 60-game season. He is coming off a season where he averaged 11.3 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 42.1% from three in the Estonian-Latvian Basketball League and 13.2 points and 5.9 rebounds in the EuroCup. 

Chiba fans can expect highlight dunks from a winning player. This season, there are many exciting things to anticipate from D.J. Stephens.

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