When Omari Lawrence signed to play at St. John’s, the New York native was looked at as a big get for Red Storm coach Norm Roberts.
But just a year later, Roberts was fired and Lawrence left his career at St. John’s behind him.
His freshman year was disappointing, as he scored just 2.5 points per game and played less than 10 minutes per contest. Lawrence went to Cloud County, where he was recruited by just one Division-I coach — Kansas State’s Frank Martin.
Five years after he made his college debut at St. John’s, Lawrence was vital in helping the Wildcats beat Kansas for the first time in his three-year career at K-State, scoring nine points in 22 minutes in last week’s 85-82 overtime win.
The win even came against his old coach, now an assistant at Kansas.
“It was just a great experience for everybody to just win and go out there and compete and play well together,” Lawrence said. “We had a great time on and off the court, with the fans, interacting and just being really happy about the win.
“The embarrassing losses that we had throughout the years (against Kansas), coming up short sometimes at home — just happy we got a chance to win this time, especially my senior year.”
Lawrence said he lost some motivation and became distracted along his journey, when he wasn’t playing, but he never lost his love for the game.
After five years, three schools, four coaches and a college degree, Lawrence has remained committed to his career, even if it hasn’t quite equaled up to some of the hype he had coming out of high school.
Lawrence was a three-star rated player by Rivals, and one of the top players in the state of New York. But his career at St. John’s fizzled quickly, and this year, as a senior, he’s averaging a career-high three points per game.
“He wanted to be the star, I mean every one does, but he wasn’t,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It took him a little while, he struggled, but the last two, three weeks, his whole attitude, mindset has changed. I told him ‘good things happen.’ Look what’s happened.”
Lawrence graduated from K-State last year, but elected to return to the team and go to graduate school, seeking a master’s degree to go along with his bachelors in family studies and human services.
Lawrence said he wanted to come back to go for that higher degree for his mother, a special education teacher, who he considers to be his personal hero.
“She’s a single-parent mom, she really cares about people, and that’s where I got it from,” he said. “For me and my family, they wanted me to get my masters or come as close as I could to finishing it because my mom is all about education. She could care less about basketball.”
Still, Lawrence clearly does care a great deal about basketball. While he might have come back for education, teammate Shane Southwell thinks he’s looking to close out his career on a high note, too.
“He’s obviously been through a lot in terms of transferring, being at three schools, and also being from where he’s at in his high school career,” he said. “He was probably one of the better high school players in New York and even in the country at that time, and then sort of saw his career go down hill. He’s trying to get back up, I think he’s been doing really good for us. I’m just proud of Omari.”
Lawrence’s contributions this season have gone beyond the games. A year ago, with a brand new practice facility, Weber said they couldn’t get Lawrence to come in and shoot. Now, he’s making freshmen players like Wesley Iwundu stay after practice, taking it upon himself to be a leader and a teacher as his career reaches its twilight.
“It’s really starting to sink in,” Lawrence said of the season nearing its end. “We’re just trying to get our best effort in, win these games and try to catch up in the league.”
But Lawrence might long be remembered for the energy he supplied in last Monday’s win over the Jayhawks, one he’s labeled as the most memorable moment of his career.
“That had to be the best game of his career,” Weber said. “On that stage, against that quality of team, the plays he made — I’m happy for him.”