Lakewood High’s Anthony Lawrence Jr. still remembers the first time he stepped onto a basketball court, at just 4 years old.
“I was put in my older sister’s rec league game, and I was so nervous I stood still at midcourt and cried,” Lawrence said. “I looked at my dad in the stands (current Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence), and he yelled back, ‘suck it up!’ ”
In 10th grade, after averaging 10 points a game on varsity the previous year, his AAU team was losing. But he didn’t need to look in the stands for reassurance as he had more than a decade earlier. He had been playing every day since and sometimes lifting weights on the side to work off his baby fat. He would shoot for hours in the driveway, late into the night, envisioning himself playing in the NBA.
This time he was ready.
“We had no one in that game, because our star player got hurt,” Lawrence said. “I knew I had to score, and the game came to me. That’s when I knew I could play.”
Now, everyone in the country does. The 6-foot-7 four-star guard possesses elite court vision and has the strength to play near the basket and the shooting game to be a force from the outside. It’s no mistake Lawrence is ranked as the 96th-best overall player in the ESPN top 100.
“People think I’m biased because he’s my son,” the elder Lawrence said. “Last year, he had four triple-doubles in a backseat role to Jacobi Boykins (who was first-team all-state). He’s averaged over 20 points a game in his last two seasons and is the most complete player in the county. I expect big things out of him. This year, he’s hungrier than ever.”
He should be. The younger Lawrence and the Spartans had a sour taste in their mouth after being the first Pinellas County team to reach the state championship in five years. They lost in the 5A title game to Plantation American Heritage, 98-70.
“I want to finish off what we did last year,” Lawrence said. “We had a feeling of emptiness, and that’s what has driven me this offseason to get better and get back there and win it. I have to be more of a leader and score even more this year.”
Having committed to Miami, where his dad played from 1991-94, Lawrence has spent up to six hours on the court per day, working to improve.
He’s even doing yoga to make himself limber and more aware of his body — something his father has implemented into the workout regimen of the team the past two years.
So far this season, Lawrence is averaging 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three steals per game for Lakewood (5-2)
“He’s worked harder than any kid I’ve coached to get to where he is, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my son,” Anthony Sr. said. “He’s an easy kid to raise. His demeanor and character is something to be modeled after. What you see is what you get with him. He doesn’t go out partying. He’s home early and a laid-back, hard-working kid whose lone goal is to make the NBA.”