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PENNINGTON, N.J. — Emphatic dunks, feathery three-point shots, impressive moves around the hoop — Jermaine Lawrence showed his entire arsenal Saturday afternoon.
Flanked by some of the East Coast’s top juniors and sophomores, the ever-improving 6-foot-10 former Cardozo basketball swingman continued his steady climb. Lawrence poured in 27 points to take home MVP honors in the second annual Mary Kline Classic underclassmen all-star game, a showcase to raise money for cancer research, at Pennington HS in New Jersey.
The performance was just the latest impressive display by the Jamaica native in what has become a breakout spring. He dazzled in back-to-back weekends in Hoop Group Jam Fest showcases in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with the New Rens, his AAU team, showed limitless range and an explosive finishing ability in the lane.
Following last weekend, he landed scholarship offers from Baylor, Kansas, UNLV, Temple and Florida to go along with existing ones from Syracuse, St. John’s, Maryland, Louisville, Villanova, Rutgers and Cincinnati, among others.
“I just wanted to play my ‘A’ game, not force anything and let my game come to me, keep improving,” he said. “I really expected it to happen, especially how good I’ve been playing.”
It all began a month ago in the 23rd annual Basketball World Tournament, when Lawrence and a group of fellow prospects partook in international competition. He returned more determined, he said, tougher and confident against players his age. The team’s least-known player at the time, Lawrence learned a lot facing older competition.
“We were playing against pros,” said Lawrence, who now attends Pope John XXIII in Sparta, N.J. “Seeing how tough they are, gave me insight into the next level. It made me play tougher and more aggressive when I came back.”
National recruiting analysts raved about him on Twitter and included him in their daily write-ups. College coaches have begun to fawn over him.
“He’s a special talent and when it’s all said and done with hard work he could be arguably one of the best players in his class,” one Division I coach familiar with Lawrence said. Another coach described him as someone capable of playing either forward position with “great upside.”
Pope John Coach Jason Hasson wasn’t surprised, because of how hard Lawrence has worked in recent months, most notably after getting back from France. Following the trip to Pittsburgh, he was in the weight room 15 minutes after classes ended Monday.
“I would say he’s a top 10 player in his class, that’s my personal opinion,” Hasson said. “Only because how hard he works he’s gonna get better and better and better.”
Alexes Hargrove, a friend of the family helping in Lawrence’s recruitment, said he will cut his list to five at some point in August. Lawrence said he has no favorites, but Cincinnati assistant Darren Savino has made a major push.
“Darren has been at every game, almost everywhere Jermaine has been,” Hargrove said. “Either him or [head Coach] Mick Cronin show up to support Jermaine.”
After watching Lawrence in Philadelphia, UNLV told Hargrove they plan to be around a lot in the coming months. Rutgers has been involved with Lawrence since he came of age at Cardozo, with Van Macon consistently checking in, Hargrove said. St. John’s was one of the first major Division I programs to offer Lawrence and they remain a factor as well.
Lawrence said location won’t play a role in his commitment. He is looking for a team which plays an up-tempo style, can offer his immediate minutes and he feels comfortable at.
For now, Lawrence just wants to continue his recent tear. He’ll have plenty of opportunities as he will compete in the Kevin Durant and LeBron James skills academies, the NBA Top 100 Camp and the Pangos All-American Camp.
“I had to separate myself from the pack and make noise,” he said. “It’s real exciting, but it makes me want to work harder so I can make noise on the next level.”
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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