Versatility is something college basketball coaches love. The ability to guard multiple positions and be multifaceted on offense creates matchup problems for opponents. That is one of the many reasons why Jermaine Lawrence is such a coveted prospect. But Lawrence wasn't always so highly regarded. This summer, he has risen up the recruiting ranks to one of the elite forwards in the 2013 class. Jason Hasson, his coach at Pope John XXIII (N.J.) High, spoke with CuseNation.com about his rise and where his recruitment stands.
"A lot of it has to do with his work ethic," Coach Hasson said. "He got so much better after the season ended. Once the season ended, he was upset over the way it ended. He didn't want that to happen again next year. So he was in the gym almost immediately starting to lift weights, work on his ball handling, and his shooting. He increased his range, improved his ball handling, and definitely increased his strength since last season ended.
"I think he's been getting a lot more recognition because he's gotten better because he's been working at it."
The increased recognition has led to a big time buzz about how good Lawrence can become. Many schools are after the 6-foot-9 forward to bring his versatility to their program.
"I don't know if anybody is after him the most, but a lot of schools are really interested," Coach Hasson explained. "Syracuse is really interested. Cincinnati, I hear from a lot. Villanova, Florida, St. John's, Rutgers, Kansas, Maryland, UNLV. Those are the schools I hear from the most I would say."
Syracuse has been rumored to have very strong interest in the five-star forward. Coach Hasson says Syracuse was in touch with him within the last week. Assistant Coach Adrian Autry is the primary recruiter for Lawrence. According to Coach Hasson, Coach Autry has told him that Lawrence is Syracuse's top priority. He also says Syracuse is looking to get Lawrence on campus for a visit once the July period ends.
Whenever a prospect looks at Syracuse, the natural question is how they would fit into the 2-3 zone. Coach Hasson believes Lawrence would fit in seamlessly.
"Whether you play man or zone, since I've been watching a lot of their film, their zone has a lot of man principles," he said. "I don't think it would be a difficult transition at all if he decided to go there. They (Syracuse) still pressure the ball a lot, they still rotate out of traps, they still do a lot of things that people do in man.
"I think that's why their zone translates well into the NBA because of their man principles that they use in their zone."
While Lawrence's rise has been largely attributed to his offense, the length and athleticism the Sparta product possesses could be a perfect fit for any defensive scheme. Lawrence, Coach Hasson says, is not given enough credit for his defense. He believes Lawrence is a great defender.
"As far as defensively, he's probably one of the most underrated shot blockers I've seen," Coach Hassan detailed. "People don't really talk about his shot blocking, but he averaged 8 blocked shots per game for us. He had a game where he had 15. As far as on the ball, he can guard the 2, 3, 4 and 5 on the ball. We're trying to get him to be able to guard 1 to 5.
"I don't know if we'll be able to do that yet, but he can definitely guard 2's, 3's, 4's and 5's."
Many have speculated that due to his skill set, the talented forward could play either small or power forward at the college level. Coach Hasson says he has a natural position.
"He's a 3 without question," Coach Hasson stated. "That's what he's going to play for us. That's what his natural inclination is. That doesn't mean he can't post up. He can play with his back to the basket. He can play the 3, 4, or 5. But if you're looking for a natural position for him, it's the 3."
While Lawrence has visited local schools Rutgers and St. John's, his recruitment will look to pick up in August.
"Once July ends, we'll start looking at and trying to figure out his top 10," Coach Hasson outlined. "Then from there, start to look at maybe some visits. Then maybe at the end of August going down to a top 5."
Though Lawrence has generated a lot of buzz, Coach Hasson believes he has limitless potential.
"With the worth ethic he has, the sky is the limit for how good he can be."