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Cameron Smith

Top basketball recruit's rise complicated by his religion

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Jermaine Lawrence is one of the top sophomore basketball prospects in the nation even though he's just starting his first season at the varsity level. The New York City native stars for Cardozo, a school with a rich basketball heritage that helped mold NBA players Rafer Alston and Royal Ivey, among others.

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Yet Lawrence faces challenges unforeseen by Alston, Ivey or any of the other prior luminaries at Cardozo and other New York public league powers: He's a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church, which follows a strict sabbath from sunset on Fridays to sensate on Saturdays, a full day each week when Lawrence is unable to participate in any physical activity.

According to the New York Daily News, the battle over whether the 6-foot-8 Lawrence can break the sabbath to participate in key basketball games has already begun. After leaving Lawrence on the junior varsity team as a freshman, Cardozo basketball coach Ron Naclerio said he was forced to promote the young, versatile forward in an effort to push the Judges toward the Public School Athletic League title.

"If he dedicates himself to live this dream, barring injury, he's one of few kids that I've had that can not only live the dream, but the dream can be so real that he can enjoy it on a level that few can," Naclerio told the Daily News. "I haven't seen a kid with his potential in New York since maybe Lamar Odom."

Yet to reach those heights, Lawrence will have to eventually compete on Saturdays, something which his mother has adamantly opposed to this point.

"It's weird, very uncomfortable," Jermaine Lawrence's mother Marcia Lawrence told the Daily News. "There's times I have to leave church to get him to a game. It's very uncomfortable and uneasy. But there's no going around it. I'm either going to break it or I'm not going to break it. I'll find ways of working it out, though. It will work out."

The eventuality of Saturday competition is speeding toward Lawrence like a freight train. Cardozo has four games and scrimmages scheduled for Saturdays this season, starting with a January 15 face-off against Baltimore (Md. ) Patterson High. With Lawrence already established as a regular in the Cardozo lineup, missing him for those four games could prove a critical blow to Cardozo's season chances.

Those complications don't even factor in the PSAL playoffs, which will almost surely hold at least one game on a Saturday. That inevitability is precisely what kept Naclerio from using the versatile forward as a freshman in the 2009-10 season. With recruiters from a handful of America's top basketball schools already flocking to see Lawrence compete -- he's been handed a scholarship offer by Rick Pitino at Louisville already -- there will be plenty wondering if and when the sophomore will start suiting up on the Sabbath.

"Basketballwise, maybe I made a mistake (not starting Lawrence on varsity), but if you take the religious factors in, it would have been thrown in his face and his mother's face the first year," Naclerio said. "I think his mother realizes that she's going to have to relent just a little. It's something that she realizes is going to be a problem later on, but later on is coming."

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