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Bronx native signs LOI with St. John’s

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Omari Lawrence made it official Thursday night. In front of family, friends and members of the media, the former St. Raymond HS and current South Kent School guard signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at St. John’s University inside the Mullally Park Recreation Center in the Bronx.

But, according to Lawrence’s brother, Abebe, a former Division I athlete himself, Omari’s attending St. John’s was a foregone conclusion.

“I’ve known he wanted to be a local kid since freshman year of high school,” the former defensive end at the University of Maine said. “At the end, it was a no-brainer. It was St. John’s all along.”

Lawrence, the basketball player, stated differently numerous times. He took visits to UConn, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall, Georgetown and North Carolina State. But visiting those places made him realize one thing: New York City was where he wanted to be.

Abebe said when they got off the plane in Wisconsin for a visit with Marquette, his brother let out a sigh.

“I can’t believe I’m out here, man,” Omari said, according to Abebe.

“I just wanted to stay home with my family (for college),” Omari said Thursday night.

His signing is a major one for St. John’s – and just because of the 6-foot-4 Lawrence’s skill, which there is plenty of. ESPN has him ranked the 29th best shooting guard in the Class of 2009, making him one of the better players the Red Storm have gotten to stay home. His presence could be a gateway for a program that has been treading water in the toughest conference in the country, the Big East.

“I think Omari is going to help continue the process,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “Obviously, we’re gonna have to be successful and he’s gonna have to play well.”

The coach isn’t really worried about that last part. He cited Lawrence’s superior athletic ability, creativity and toughness on the court as qualities that make the Bronx native stand out. But it’s not just that, Roberts said. Lawrence has leadership qualities, which can’t be taught, and fine intangibles. The coach said those are things he looks for in players.

“You have to look at it that way,” Roberts said. “All the kids at this level are talented.”

A big part of Lawrence’s decision was a faith in his future coach, too. St. John’s sophomore forward Justin Burrell, whom Lawrence calls a friend, told him that Roberts is a stand-up guy who takes care of his players. The combination of that and staying close to home made the Red Storm too hard to resist. In late August, Lawrence canceled an upcoming visit with Louisville and committed to St. John’s.

On Thursday, he made it official, hoping the Red Storm’s turnaround starts with him.

“I would mean a lot to the program and my family,” Lawrence said. “I’d like to bring the school back to where it was in the past.”

Another pick-up: St. John’s got another letter of intent from a Bronx native Thursday. Guard Dwight Hardy, formerly of John F. Kennedy and now at No. 1-ranked JUCO Indian Hills Community College, put his name on the dotted line, too.

The 6-foot-2 Hardy was the leading scorer for Indian Hills last year as a freshman, averaging 18.9 points a game. He was the leading scorer in the NJCAA tournament, scoring 121 points in four games. Hardy also set the IHCC school record for three-pointers in a season with 102 last season.

“He can really shoot the ball and he can shoot it from deep,” Roberts said. “That’s something we need to improve on.”

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