Dec 17, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats forward Jermaine Lawrence (11) controls the ball against Pittsburgh Panthers forward Talib Zanna (42) during the second half of the first game of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. Cincinnati defeated Pittsburgh 44-43. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Why Is There Such Animosity Towards Cincinnati Bearcats Forward Jermaine Lawrence?

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In the last few months I’ve noticed a common theme from some corners of the fanbase to berate true freshman Jermaine Lawrence for his performance last season. I guess it comes with the territory of being such a highly rated recruit. He averaged just 2.8 points and 2.9 boards while garnering 15 minutes of court time. Given his lofty status as Cincinnati’s highest rated prospect since Yancy Gates, I guess some people expected him to average a double-double every outing.

But when you compare his stats to his peers from his recruiting class, they don’t really look as awful as some would lead you to believe.

Lawrence was the ranked the 7th best small forward in the 2013 cycle by 247 Sports. I chose that source because they do an exceptional job pooling rankings from the four major recruiting sites (247, ESPN, Rivals, Scout) into one number. It helps provide a consistent metric in which to analyze all prospects. So, as we begin our evaluation, let’s look at the numbers of the four small forwards ranked higher and lower than Lawrence in that cycle.

 
Minutes
Points
Rebounds
Assists
Blocks
Aaron Gordon31.212.48.02.01.0
James Young32.414.34.31.70.2
Jarell Martin26.210.34.60.90.7
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson25.39.15.71.41.1
JERMAINE LAWRENCE15.02.82.90.50.6
Semi Ojeleye4.71.60.90.10.2
Kuran Iverson9.12.51.60.70.2
Tyler Roberson8.12.21.90.30.2
Nick King11.14.93.30.40.3
At first look you can plainly see that the four players rated higher than Lawrence produced some pretty solid, if not jaw dropping, numbers. Considering those players were the 2nd – 6th “best” small forwards in the 2013 class, that’s not too surprising. But when you compare the Lawrence to those four freshmen rated below him, their numbers look very, very similar. Some of his stats might be better or worse than his peers but at that point we’re just splitting hairs. For all intents and purposes, Lawrence contributed as much to his team as Ojeleye, Iverson, Roberson, and King.

And even if some look at the true freshman and still kick dirt on him, they really need to consider the following truths:

  1. Lawrence was injured for one-quarter of the season. If you notice, the UC forward was confined to a boot from basically the beginning of January to the second game in February due to a sprained toe. Up until that point, Lawrence was averaging a respectable 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 17 minutes of work. While he was cleared to finished out the rest of the season beginning against UConn on February 6th, I have to believe the freshman was battling through some pain down the stretch. But, even if he wasn’t, missing eight games hampers his development, as illustrated by his production dropping when he returned.
  2. He was playing out of position all season. The Bearcats were razor thin in the low post this season with Justin Jackson the only effective player to man the 5 spot for UC. But when he got into foul trouble, which became all too frequent in the back half of the year, it was Jermaine Lawrence who was forced to carry the load. That’s not his natural position, though. Lawrence is a 4 all the way and his confusion playing a back-to-the-basket role became evident when it was forced upon him. The good news is that he shouldn’t have to play the 5 next year with Jamaree Strickland gaining eligibility and Quadri Moore and Coreontae DeBerry joining the team. Hopefully Lawrence replacing Titus Rubles at the 4 will allow him to blossom as a sophomore.
  3. He was just a freshman. I think most of the animosity towards Jermaine Lawrence can be countered by the fact that this past season was only his first. And based on the stats of other true freshman in the chart above, he’s in good company (remember, pre-injury he was averaging 4.3 points and 3.3 boards per game). It was only the elite level prospects from his class that exploded onto the scene in their first year on campus. Lawrence has plenty of time to live up to the unjustified expectations of him.

So I ask the question again; why is Jermaine Lawrence the target of such ire from parts of Cincinnati’s fanbase? It really doesn’t make much sense and quite frankly is getting about as old as the clamoring from folks who want to fire Mick Cronin after winning 27 games this past season. The kid was injured for a good chunk of the year, he played an unnatural position, and he was an 18 year old freshman who just turned 19 a couple of months ago. How about having a little patience and not giving up on Lawrence before he has an opportunity to show us what he is truly capable of?

Is that really so much to ask?

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