Dozo’s Lawrence shows off talents

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Jermaine Lawrence has played in front of packed houses, full of college coaches before. Last week was a little different.

All the high-major Division I basketball coaches — which included Rutgers head Coach Mike Rice, assistant Van Macon, St. John’s assistants Mike Dunlap, Rico Hines and Tony Chiles and Florida assistant Norm Roberts, among many others — were at Cardozo for the Judges’ annual open gym Oct. 5 for one reason: him.

“I was real nervous, once I started to play, I couldn’t really breathe properly,” the versatile 6-foot-8 junior from Springfield Gardens said. “It was hard to play to my full potential. It was overwhelmi­ng.”

By the end of the day, Lawrence, 16, had five new scholarship offers nevertheless — from Florida, Villanova, Marquette, Kansas State and Pittsburgh, Cardozo Coach Ron Naclerio said. The quintet joins his existing ones: from Xavier, South Florida, St. John’s, Rutgers, Georgetown, Cincinnati, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Fordham and Hofstra.

“I’ve had some great, great, great players and he has a chance to be very, very high on the list,” said Naclerio, who has sent three players — Royal Ivey, Rafer Alston and Duane Causwell — to the NBA. “Maybe even numero uno.”

Despite the nerves and a slight head cold, Lawrence put on a show, several college coaches in attendance said. He showed a soft touch around the hoop, ability to run the floor well, score inside and out, finish strong around the hoop and rebound and block shots at a high level.

One coach said it was the best he’s seen Lawrence. Another wasn’t quite as impressed — Lawrence was better at Hoop Group Elite Camp — but believes he has separated himself from the pack in New York City, based on potential at least. That includes Lincoln sophomore Isaiah Whitehead, Christ the King senior Omar Calhoun and Archbishop Molloy sophomore C.J. Davis.

“Nobody is close to him,” the coach said of Lawrence, who led the Judges to the PSAL Class AA semifinals last year. “For someone his size to have his skill level, he’s a freak of nature right now.”

Another coach pointed to a move in which Lawrence drove full speed to the left side of the paint, showed the ball to the defense, reversed to the baseline and sank a fadeaway jumper.

“That was a pro move,” the coach said. “His upside is huge. That’s the big word with him.”

The one knock on Lawrence is consistency, or the lack thereof. He’ll have quiet games against weaker competition, one of the coaches in attendance said, when he should be dominant. Naclerio amped up his schedule this winter in part to challenge Lawrence and he plans to split time over the AAU season with Positive Direction, the only program he’s played for, and one of the city’s sneaker-funded powerhouses.

Lawrence wasn’t even aware of the new offers until the following day. He was appreciative, but not surprised. Naclerio has been telling him they would come since his freshman year. Of course, he didn’t expect so many so soon. They won’t change how he’s preparing for the season — he has yet to begin taking visits — on and off the court.

In the summer, Lawrence put in extra workout sessions in Brooklyn on top of AAU trips with Positive Direction and local tournaments. His grades are solid; teachers have been complimentary of Lawrence of late, Naclerio said. And he has taken on a leadership role with his teammates as one of the elder statesmen.

And now, the offers are flying in, even before his junior year has begun.

“It makes me want to become a better player, so I can get more interested schools,” Lawrence said. “It makes me want to do better.”

Posted 5:45 pm, October 12, 2011
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