If last week’s season opener was any indication, Greenwood High transfer J.T. Lawrence is ready to make the jump from supporting cast to superstar at Delta Streets Academy.
Lawrence, who won a Class 4A title last year with the Bulldogs, poured in a career-high 54 points, seven steals and five assists during the Lions’ 87-48 victory over Central Holmes Christian.
“The mindset is different,” Lawrence said. “Gotta take over. I usually let the game come to me but now I go get the game.”
The 5-foot-11 point guard enters his junior season with improved outside shooting and ball-handling skills to match a new mentality that immediately won over second-year head coach Justin Childs.
“He’s got a next-level mentality,” Childs said. “He could be playing against Daeshun Ruffin, the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Mississippi this year, and he would expect himself to beat him. That’s a championship mindset — he doesn’t back down from any challenge. He wants to play the best and he wants to be the best.
“He demands excellence from his teammates around him and also from himself, which is a good thing to have as far as leadership on our team,” Childs added. “He just sets that tone for our entire team.”
What makes Lawrence so hard to stop is a deceptive quickness that allows him to create a step-back jumper or drive past his defender at the drop of a dime.
“Nobody knows my next move,” Lawrence said. “They think they know, but they don’t know my next move. Last year I couldn’t shoot as good. Now it’s not like you have to step up.”
“He can dribble, he can shoot, he can run the floor,” said Javeon “Redd” Smith, who also transferred from Greenwood to DSA after fall sports were canceled at local public schools. “You won’t know when he’s going to drive and when he’s going to pull up, so it’s hard to stop him.”
Now that the secret is out about Lawrence’s scoring prowess, the challenge becomes adjusting to an expected increase in defensive attention.
“Last year, he wasn’t necessarily the star of their team,” said Childs, referring to Lawrence’s sophomore season at Greenwood. “He was a big part of it, but just seeing how he’ll handle being the guy this year will be interesting. I know he’s going to draw a lot of double teams, a lot of box-and-ones from here on out. I think he’s definitely going to be ready for it.”
Fortunately for Childs, he has experience dealing with double teams from his time at Riverside coaching 6-foot-6 standout D.J. Stewart, now at Mississippi State. Plus, with all eyes on Lawrence, Childs has confidence in DSA’s role players to step up if they’re left open.
“This is the deepest and most talented team I’ve ever coached — and I’ve coached a team with D.J. Stewart, the best player on Mississippi State’s basketball team this year,” said Childs, whose Lions (1-0) are ranked as the second-best Class 1A squad in the latest MAIS Coaches Poll. “He was the best player I’ve ever coached, but I think J.T. is going to be the best point guard I’ve ever coached for sure.”
Following Thursday night’s trip to Marshall Academy, DSA visits West Memphis Christian on Friday before returning home to host Class 3A Heritage Academy on Monday at noon in the Delta Duels Classic at Mississippi Valley State University.
Then in December, the Lions host a pair of huge games against Class 2A powerhouses Greenville St. Joe and Greenville Christian.
In the latter matchup against the Saints, Leflore transfers Dekari “Turbo” Johnson and D.J. Jones will see former teammate Kerrick Ross while Lawrence and Smith will likely face off against reigning 4A tournament MVP DeAndre Smith for the first time.
“I hope (DeAndre Smith) doesn’t go back to Greenwood High because I want to play him,” Lawrence said. “Him and Omar (Emmons) at St. Joe, I want to see them.”
• Contact Riley Overend at 581-7237 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @OverendOut on Twitter.