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Fans split on DeShawn’s status

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For the most part, Utah Jazz fans love DeShawn Stevenson.

They love him for his raw athletic talent, for his ability to catch serious air and throw down dazzling dunks and for the endless potential his 20-year-old, 6-foot-5 gifted body possesses. They especially love the tantalizing thought that he eventually could be the future of the franchise — the life and hope after Stockton and Malone.

But Utahns' love for Stevenson is conditional — the result of his upcoming trial for allegations that he had sex with a 14-year-old girl a couple of months ago.

And that conditional acceptance hasn't changed, even after fans welcomed and applauded his late-July showing at the Jazz-sponsored Rocky Mountain Review summer league.

Nearly half the Utahns surveyed in two Deseret News/KSL-TV polls conducted by Dan Jones & Associates — one in mid-July and the other earlier this month — say Stevenson should play for the Jazz only if he is cleared of a statutory rape charge.

Stevenson pleaded not guilty to the statutory rape charge, and some hearings have taken place for the upcoming case in the Fresno Superior Court.

Bringing up the question: What should the Utah Jazz do with their young talented guard?

According to ESPN.com, the Jazz are currently trying to shop Stevenson around the league — perhaps because of his legal problems but mostly because Jazz brass hope to get some needed help for another run at the elusive NBA title.

ESPN.com reported a circulating rumor earlier this week that the Jazz had offered him and Quincy Lewis (for salary cap purposes) to the Portland Trail Blazers for Bonzi Wells, to the Memphis Grizzlies for Michael Dickerson, to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Wally Szczerbiak and to the Toronto Raptors for Keon Clark and Morris Peterson.

In July, Jazz owner Larry H. Miller told the Deseret News that Utah might sever its ties if he was found guilty. Miller said Stevenson could return to play "but not under any circumstances . . .

"If DeShawn's convicted in a worse-case, it's a real problem for us, because we have always said that we want this team to stand for certain things," Miller said. "You want the team to represent certain things in the community, we want the players to be role models.

"We don't expect them to be angels, but there's certain things we've always stood for. Now, having said that, I think DeShawn is a good guy. If it's what it's charged to be right now, he made a very serious and, in my opinion, a very stupid mistake."

Utahns, in general, are split as to what they think the Jazz should do, with nearly half of all Utah adults involved in the two polls saying the Jazz should keep Stevenson on their roster only if he is found not guilty of the rape charge.

About one-fifth of Utahns want Stevenson to stay on the roster if he is cleared of the charge by either a plea bargain or another legal agreement.

In the most recent study, 11 percent believe that the former Fresno prep star should play for the Jazz no matter what the legal outcome is. An equal amount have the exact opposite opinion, saying he should not play for Utah no matter what happens.

The Deseret News first contracted Dan Jones & Associates to pose the question to Utahns about Stevenson in July, a couple of weeks after he surrendered to Fresno police and was released on $5,000 bail.

The Fresno Police Department report says Stevenson admitted in a tape-recorded telephone call with the victim's mother that he had consensual sex with the teen female.

Stevenson and his best friend, former SLCC guard DeShawn Anderson, are accused of taking the 14-year-old and a 15-year-old girl to a motel in Fresno, drinking alcohol with them and engaging in consensual intercourse with them.

If convicted, Stevenson could face up to three years in prison.

Interestingly, the results of the two polls — July 10-12 and Sept. 4-6 — are remarkably similar, within a few percentage points of each other and well within the 5 percent margin of error.

Some people familiar with the first poll had anticipated a swing in Stevenson's favor in the second one based on how well he was received by the thousands of fans who enthusiastically cheered for him at the Rocky Mountain Revue at SLCC in late July.

Stevenson's approval rating could still change dramatically, of course, depending on the results of the case. Miller believes he has a future in the league regardless the outcome.

"Whether he plays here or somewhere else, clearly he's going to play in the NBA someplace," he said. "He's too good not to."

E-MAIL: jody@desnews.com