King From Queens

by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

All across America there are 6-10 basketball players, but very few, if any, are versatile and skilled enough to play three positions. A package of towering size, bouncy athleticism and sound footwork is uncommon at the high school level, and one that college coaches dream of getting their hands on. That’s why Jermaine Lawrence, a 6-10, 205-pound senior at Pope John XXIII (NJ), is one of the most exciting and gifted players in the country.

“I can play shooting guard, small forward or power forward,” says Lawrence, who is among only a handful of five-star recruits (Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon) yet to make a college decision. “My size definitely gives me an edge on the competition; I can shoot over and back down smaller defenders, and I have quick feet to get past guys who are bigger than me.”

The native of Queens, NY, is a jack-of-all-trades swingman—think, for comparisons sake, Jeff Green or Antawn Jamison—who excels in both transition and half-court play. Equipped with tremendous athleticism and mobility, Lawrence flourishes in open space, and a vast arsenal of moves make him a tough cover when the game slows down. He’s interchangeable on the pick-and-roll, has a polished turnaround and step-back shooting stroke, and is an effective rebounder, particularly in traffic.

After undergoing surgery on his wrist last summer, Lawrence, who has been out of commission for a few months, is expecting to be cleared for contact this week. His final three schools are UNLV, St. John’s and Cincinnati, and after feeling out the process for quite some time, he should be nearing a decision soon. He’s taken official visits to Las Vegas and Cincy, and is currently working to schedule a visit to St. John’s.

Lawrence is coveted because of his unique blend of size and skill. He can defend from virtually anywhere, and if he can tighten up his handle, shoot with more consistency and fill out his wiry frame, he has a chance to make an immediate impact in college.

SLAM recently caught up with Jermaine to discuss his recovery from surgery, college recruitment, approach to the game and more.

SLAM: What’s up, Jermaine? How’s everything going?

Jermaine Lawrence: Hey man, everything is going good. Just focusing on school and basketball, and taking it one day at a time. I’m back from wrist surgery now and just waiting for clearance, so I’m really excited to get back into the flow of things.

SLAM: I saw you at the Big Strick Classic in August. What have you been up to since then?

JL: After Big Strick, I went to the Elite 24 game in California, which was a really great experience; it was cool to compete against, and hang out with, some of the best players in the country. After Elite 24, I had wrist surgery, but I didn’t want to fall behind so I developed an intense workout regimen to gain some weight and build my body. I did a lot of lower body and conditioning work, so when my wrist healed up I’d still be in game shape and play at a high level.

SLAM: Your final list is UNLV, St. John’s and Cincinnati. What do you like about each of those schools?

JL: At St. John’s, the coaches are down to earth, and we really click, in terms of how I’d fit in with the program. Plus, St. John’s is close to home, so I’ve been watching them forever and the idea of playing there has always been with me.

I really like Cincinnati’s coaching staff, too. Plus, they have a lot of New York players in Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine Sanders and Shaq Thomas, and we all got along really well on my official visit. I think their program also makes you tougher, and helps you develop an edge, so that’s always a good thing.

UNLV, well, I really like their playing style. It’s uptempo and free. Coach Rice will make you earn everything you get, and he’s a player’s coach and is a great communicator. Right now, the buzz surrounding the program is crazy; they’ve become a serious contender not only in the Mountain West, but also nationally.

I like all three schools, so making a decision will be tough, but I’m just grateful for the opportunity and excited to find the best fit for me.

SLAM: How’s Pope John XXIII looking this year?

JL: We have a real talented team. We have a bunch of new players who’ve already done a good job, and when I return I think we can go very far. Our goal is to the get to the last game of the season, which is the State Championship game.

SLAM: With your height, speed, footwork and ball handling, you’re exceptionally versatile. What position are you most comfortable at?

JL: My natural position is small forward, but I can also operate on the block and play the 4. [In other words] I think I’m most effective on the wing, but I’ll play whatever position coach tells me to. I’ve played every position on both my school and travel teams, so I’m honestly comfortable wherever they play me. I’m like the Swiss Army knife—I’m used differently almost every game, but I can adjust on the fly and contribute from any position.

SLAM: Do you think your size and versatility give you an advantage on the competition?

JL: Yeah, definitely. There are very few guys who are 6-10 and do the stuff I can do, so I think it really gives me an edge. I can back down and shoot over smaller guys, and I can get around guys who are my size because I have quick feet.

SLAM: What aspect of your game do you need to improve the most?

JL: I need to improve my shooting, ball handling and defense. I have a good jumpshot, but if I can make it consistent then that would add another threat to my game.

Improved ball handling would take my game to another level, because I could break down defenses and create my own shot with ease. If I can increase my range, I’ll be a lot more deadly in college, and will give coaches more of a reason to play me on the wing.

In terms of defense, I don’t think anybody is perfect on defense, so as a player you always have to work on defense. On the ball, off the ball; everything. At this point, it’s go-time for me. I’ve made progress as a player, and it’s definitely showing, but I know I still have a long way to go, and I’m excited to get there.

SLAM: Are there any particular NBA players you model your game after?

My favorite players are LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who I think are the two best players in the NBA. I met LeBron at his camp this summer, and watched him workout and practice, and I was in awe. It was crazy, man. Watching him play just put everything in perspective for me. And KD, I kind of model my game after him, because he’s a tall player with guard skills, and he really cares about winning.

SLAM: What are your goals for this year?

JL: I’m trying to do whatever I can for the team to win, and I’m trying to be the best player I can possibly be. My goal is to get stronger and get a little bigger. Right now I’m at 205 pounds, but I’m trying to get to 220. I’m also trying to get good grades and do well in school, because I know school comes before basketball. I have a vision and things I’m trying to accomplish, so I’m working hard every day to stay focused and prepared, so when the opportunity comes I know I’ll be ready.