Instead, the two young men are playing professional basketball overseas in Italy and New Zealand, respectively. Lawrence was playing for Banco di Sardegna Sassari; a second division team in the IBL and Hill has spent most of the season riding the pine for the Nelson Giants in the NBL.
Until recently, Lawrence had been playing very well for Sassari; he was the team's starting wing and averaging a respectable 10 points a game. But for some reason he was taken off the active roster and his American-only spot was given to Damian Cantrell, a former (believe it or not) USF Don who was playing in the Philippines.
They had to buy out his contract and ship him over. It seems like there is some sort of contract dispute with A-Law; either a higher division team is trying to buy A-Law's contract or Antonio himself is causing some sort of fuss.
Either way, the chat boards in Italy are not very kind to Lawrence, but then again my Italian is weak. As for Hill, forgot about it: his hoop dreams are over.
He barely sees the light of day (about 2 points a game) and he is one of the team's "biggest" players.
Location-wise, the two young men couldn't have picked better places to play. Both places are simply stunning. A-Law's team plays their home games in the middle of Mediterranean Sea on the island of Sardinia. The town Sassari is at the top of the island and is close to Corsica, so one day you can have Italian food and the next day French. Nelson, New Zealand, wow; what a beautiful place.
Think of the Monterey coast in Hawaii. Simply incredible. Both places are high on my list for vacation destinations.
Career-wise, however, both men probably made big mistakes by skipping school.
Even if they had stayed four years at SJSU, it would have been a long shot for either one of them to make the NBA. But at least they would have had that shot.
Now, it is completely out of picture. Plus, they would have gotten a free education. My hope for A-Law is that he comes back to the States and plays college football.
We have seen guys like Chris Weinke and Josh Booty return to school after playing pro baseball, so there is no reason why Antonio could not do the same.
In the short term, not having those two players has hurt the Spartans this year. They really could have used the size of Hill (6-9, 250) and the guts of Lawrence.
All season long, when San Jose State needed a rebound, it was just out of their grasp. Or when the team needed someone to step up and take a shot, there was no one there.
In long run, however, it is better that both men left the program when they did. If you are going to start from the scratch, you might as well start sooner than later. It also forced the current roster to mature a lot faster. The team really needed (and still needs) one player to emerge.
But despite the current slide, the team has shown signs of life and is still fighting. Plus, individually, each player has to realize that there is plenty of gain by playing hard the rest of the season.
For seniors Eric Walton and Brett Lilly they have an opportunity to play their way onto an NBA summer league team. Last year, Brandon Hawkins had a strong LA summer league and parleyed that into a contract with the Las Vegas Rattlers (ABA).
Walton has had an up and down season, but I can see him doing the same. Lilly leads the WAC in three-point accuracy; and if he continues to put up some strong numbers, he will get a call, too.
As for the other seniors Phil Calvert, Bim Okunrinboye, and Maurice Moore, I'm sure they would like to go out on a high note, too. They all have worked so hard this season and have exceeded most everyone's expectations.
It would be a shame if those guys didn't play in the post season WAC tournament.
As for the underclassmen: Who wants to be the "Man"? For Mike McFadden, DJ Brown and Marquin Chandler this is really an opportunity for them to step up and be the torchbearer for next season.
Chandler has really come on lately, McFadden has been consistent all year, and Brown has shown flashes of ability. But they all have to stand out and turn it on. Coach Johnson should have confidence in all three, so that he does not feel the need to try to recruit a wing player.
As for Kyle Wilson: He needs to take hold of the point guard position. Next season, three point guards are coming, plus a possible stud recruit. I'm sure all players will be gunning for his spot.
All in all, the future looks bright for Spartan basketball. Coach Johnson has put stability back into the program and is starting to get his type of players. A quick glance at the lineup next year looks really impressive:
C: Matt Misko (6-10). First true post player at SJSU in a long time.
PF: Zach Johnson (6-9). Possible HS recruit that would be that missing muscle the team lacked this year.
SF: Chandler (6-7)
SG: McFadden (6-5)
PG: Kyle Wilson (6-0)
6th man: DJ Brown (6-5)
G: Ryan Miller
G: Cheo White
G: Tyree Gardner
F: Lance Holloway
F: Michael Nunnally (6-8). Another possible HS recruit has been offered a scholarship. Needs to pass SATs.
F: Aaron Watson (?)
That's a pretty deep roster.
Coach Johnson needs to land Johnson and Nunnally, or any player with the size and skills of the departing Eric Walton. Misko has talent, but is on the thin side. He would need help down in the post.
Coach Johnson should also try to convince some of the local kids currently playing high school basketball to walk-on next season. There are a few kids in this area with nice size and skill, all of whom won't get offered scholarships at 4-year schools.
Coach needs to encourage those players that it would be better to walk-on at SJSU, then to play at a JC.
We land Johnson, Nunnally and another recruit (we only have three scholarships to offer) next year and we strongly compete in the WAC. Open up with five more recruits the following year, while retaining and maintaining the roster, and we seriously challenge for a WAC title. Yes, it would have been nice to feature a line up of O-Hill, A-Law, O Baker, K West, and, hell, even Les Norman (Coppin St.). But a program is built on a foundation of good players that are willing to work hard and buy into the program.
For four years! Some programs can afford to lose a great player and remain at the top; we simply can't.
You look at what coach Richards has done with the Women's program: She cleaned house. Not too many people were happy with her just a few years ago.
Now, the program is better than it has been in years. So, last year was ground zero for the men's program, this year we dust ourselves off, but still struggle (to be expected).
Next year, we start making some noise.
If not, I'm heading to Nelson and become a fan of the other Giants. I kind of like Australian-rules football, anyway. Or maybe I'll go to Sardinia and teach English. I'm not a big soccer fan, but I can learn to enjoy it.
Either way, it's all good.
D Baugher- OUT!