Ryan Klassen | Writer
RJ Lawrence showed that he can set the tone on offense and control the pace of an entire game if given the minutes.
AT the KC Classic by Hardwood Events at the Sports Pavilion in Lawrence, KC, RJ and MO Team Carroll Premiere 17u played the duration of the tournament undermanned. Schedules, injuries, and other personal matters allowed for no more than six of their players to be at the event on any day for the weekend. Being short staffed, RJ could shine. When asked if having just enough guys to suit up for a game changed the team mentality or attitude he said, “We knew when we came out and gave it the 110% as always, but having just six, seven guys it would be tiring. We knew that no matter what we just had to keep fighting through.”
RJ played every game, sometimes playing point guard, other times switched over the shooting guard. When playing point, he effectively set up the offense, called plays, and the team would develop fluid ball movement until the opportune shot could be taken. Other times at point guard RJ would size up his defender and spin by or just blow passed him if the lane was available. Many times, Lawrence drove to the rim where he was met with strong contact in the paint. Going up strong against the defenders, he was still able to get the shot off, draw the foul, and gain himself a trip to the free throw line for two shots. In the first three games of the tournament, RJ shot at least six shots from the charity stripe where there was no open shot but was able to draw a foul and create his own scoring opportunity. He converted those opportunities at a high rate.
WHEN playing as the shooting guard, RJ played with a very different style. At all times he was moving. Whether he finding space to shoot, maneuvering a quick catch-and-pass, or setting up a screen, RJ was a nuisance for the defense. Often at this position, the play would bring the ball to RJ’s hand while he was in a perfect shooters position beyond the three-point line. To get to this position, he would cut across the baseline and rub his defender on the men in the paint, would roll off a screen and find himself open at the top of the key, or the play would be specifically designed for him be open for the shot. Once the ball was to him in these situations, Lawrence let it fly. From all around the arc, and from seemingly limitless depth, RJ made it rain threes. Twice in the tournament he made back-to-back-to-back threes in consecutive possessions.
RJ is a self-proclaimed combo guard, saying he can play both point and shooting guard, but says he really tries to work on becoming a better point guard and finding the mismatches on the court, especially down low. As a stronger shooting guard, naturally his scoring ability is the highlight of his game. He has range from three and can make an easy jumper at mid-range. He can effectively drive the lane and draw a foul or make the defender miss and finish the lay-up.
His defense is tight and annoying for the offense. He works at his defense in the weight room to become physically stronger against the ball handler, and works on his agility regularly to maintain lateral quickness. When challenged on defense his focus does not waiver. “Get me mad enough and I can guard anybody,” he said with a wry smile when asked if he is a confident defender, “I try to play somewhat conservative on defense, but if the big steal is needed, or the big move, I take it.”
RJ Lawrence standing at 5’11”, is gearing up for his final year and season of high school at Blue Springs High School in Blue Springs, Missouri. He has garnered interest from some well-known Division II schools as well as some smaller Division I programs despite being undersized. With his senior campaign of high school and another AAU circuit next summer still to come, RJ’s high offensive ceiling paired with a year of training could make him a serious prospect for the next level.