Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has high expectations for incoming Cincinnati transfer Jermaine Lawrence.
After all, he ranked as one of the most talented players in his high school class. Masiello said Lawrence reminds him of Earl Clark, who he coached as an assistant at Louisville and averaged 14.2 points per game and grabbed 8.7 rebounds per game prior to being picked 14th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. After one season with the Bearcats, Masiello expects the sophomore to fit in to the Jaspers system with ease once he figures it out.
“There’s always an adjustment period, whether it’s a game, a week, a half a season, full year, there’s an adjustment period,” Masiello said. “I’m curious to see that, but he brings to our program what no one else can.”
When he was playing for Cincinnati last season Lawrence averaged 2.8 ppg. He also missed eight games in the middle of the season with a toe injury. Masiello said so far Lawrence has shown elite athletic ability.
“He’s a terrific athlete, does so many things, but the best quality is how hard he plays,” Masiello said. “He’s one of the hardest playing guys on the team. He has a high motor and you can’t stop him.”
Last season the Jaspers head coach saw Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey struggle not only to get the rust off after sitting out last season, but also with injuries. In his first season, Pankey averaged 7.1 ppg and 4.5 rpg mostly playing out of position in deference to three-time MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Rhamel Brown.
“I expect Ashton to be, if not the most dominant, one of the most dominant players in this conference,” Masiello said. “Him and I have had a lot of talks, a lot of meetings, and I think he’s in the best place he’s been in a while mentally, physically.”
Now Pankey, who was picked third-team All-MAAC, will be able to expand his role as a 6’10” scorer, which he started to show down the stretch of last season. The Jaspers forward led the team with 16 points in their NCAA tournament loss to Louisville and played his best basketball in the final two months of the season.
“I think everyone expected maybe a little more from him early, but at the end he was there,” Masiello said. “I think he was playing all-league type basketball, last 10 games of the year, we want to keep that momentum going.”
“I’ve tried to empower him more with this team and really give him a larger role with the loss of Rhamel and he’s welcomed it. He’s welcomed that, he’s happy about it and he’s done a great job with it so far.”
While Pankey might have taken longer to pay dividends for Masiello and the Jaspers, the expectation is that Lawrence will be a key piece early on. However, the amount of pressure that will be placed on the former five-star prospect coming out of Pope John XXIII high school in New Jersey will be limited thanks to the experienced players around him on the court.
“He really fits the way we play,” Masiello said. “Jermaine understands how we play right away. I don’t want to put any expectations on Jermaine, I think the best thing, the luxury he has is that he has Emmy Andujar, Ashton Pankey, RaShawn Stores, Shane Richards and we get good players at this program. He comes in, he doesn’t have to be the guy, he can take his time to get accustomed, but our expectations for him are going to be very high.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.