Yesterday was a big day for Mitch Henderson and the Princeton basketball program with the verbal commitments of three different 2012 recruits, but no part of this unprecedented afternoon was bigger than nearly 7'2" center Edward Lawrence.
When he arrives on campus next year Lawrence, who everybody calls Edo (rhymes with "meadow") will be the tallest player to ever suit up for the Tigers.
This morning I spoke with Lawrence's prep school coach Don Gowan from Canterbury School in New Milford, CT. Lawrence has only been playing organized basketball for four years, two in the United States and two overseas, but already Gowan has witnessed some incredible development, especially this summer.
Gowan's exclusive quotes and analysis plus links to player evaluations, photos and videos of Lawrence can be found after the jump.
Profiles of the other two players joining Lawrence in Princeton's 2012 recruiting class will follow in the next few days. I'll add a 2012 Princeton Recruits page on the site after those go live.
A former assistant at the nearby Kent School for five years, Gowan arrived at Canterbury last season, inheriting a team that had won two games in as many campaigns playing in D-4 of the highly competitive New England Prep School Athletic Conference (NEPSAC) and the Tri-State League.
"I started here a year ago in the summer. Cantebury was not good in the two years before. There were still a few spots available at the school and we found Edo playing for his national AAU team in Orlando," Gowan said.
Lawrence moved from London to Connecticut at Gowan's urging to continue his education.
"He's almost 7'2". Legitimately 7'1" and a half but he was still growing a little bit as of this summer," Gowan confirmed. "This is only his fourth year of organized basketball and only his second year in America."
While his YouTube video says Lawrence is "225 lbs soaking wet" Gowan assured me that "He's legitimately 225 now."
Lawrence, who has a tattoo of a bible passage on his right shoulder, averaged around 12 points, 8-10 blocks and double digit rebounds every game according to his coach.
With Lawrence in the middle, the Saints made progress under their Gowan, but that was nothing compared to Lawrence's individual progress after school got out. "Last year we had an OK season and improved to 7-18. He with the team improved last year but when he played AAU in the spring everything started to click in," Gowan said. "In June and July last summer Edo's rate of improvement went through the roof. I saw him play in early June and then right before he went back to London for the month of August. It was tremendous. He was like a different guy."
"He's always had good hands. He's athletic and can run the floor but he's gotten much more aggressive. He's a good passer and he can shoot alright. It has continued with them playing pick up games this fall."
It was in the summer that new Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson watched Lawrence play for the first time. "The old coaching staff had talked to me last year about him some," said Gowan. "He went to Princeton's elite camp. I know the first time Mitch Henderson saw him was there."
Lawrence's father Steve, who is also around seven feet tall, played at Dayton in the 1970s before settling in England. His son now possesses dual citizenship.
Gowan sees Lawrence with a very high ultimate upside.
"A year ago at this time I knew he was going to be a project. All big people develop later than guards. He's just now basically finishing growing," Gowan assessed. "We started him lifting weights last year and now he's lifting weights a lot. He's just got it. Some big guys are just not very athletic. It is hard for them. He's got great coordination and footwork. What you look for in a big man. The sky is the limit."
As Lawrence improves, so will the Saints in 2011-12. "As a team we should be a lot better," stated Gowan. "I have seven or eight new kids to surround him. I'm hoping that he just continues to improve the way he has been improving. We need to work a little bit on his jump shot from around the basket between 10-15 feet. He's a good shooter but it needs to be more consistent. We want to work on his shot blocking, anticipating a little bit better to get over if someone else beats their man."
Gowan added that Lawrence is good free throw shooter.
Lawrence's commitment to Princeton is the culmination of an ascent out of a difficult adjustment period from England to New England. "It was not an easy transition for Edo to come over to America to study and be in a boarding school environment. In the course of a year for me as a coach it has been fantastic for me to watch him grow up right in front of my eyes, not just basketball-wise but as a person," Gowan recalled. "This year he is so much more comfortable here. It is just what you want to see happen."
"I'm thrilled he's going to Princeton."
There is a recent story on the Cantebury web site about Lawrence's development.
From a pair of reports coming out of Hoop Mountain:
He had a good second half as he attacked and finished on the offensive glass. He saw numerous double teams in the post, but he was able to pass well out of them and find the open man.
You can't teach size and while Lawrence is an undeniable project in need of muscle and upper-body strength, he has tools to work with. He moves very well for a guy his size, has soft hands and good poise with his back to the basket. About to enter his second year stateside since arriving from England, Lawrence is also a terrific student.
NERR wrote after the All-Academic Camp:
The seven-foot-one big man showed why he is a coveted academic recruit today, blocking shots and showcasing a feathery soft touch around the basket. Edo is polished finishing with both hands and has showed improved footwork. He also showed improved toughness, as he was able to snatch offensive rebounds, gather himself, and finish strong around the basket over smaller defenders.
The same site put Lawrence on their Dream Dozen after this camp, saying:
The other seven-foot plus prospect to emerge throughout All-Academic as a dominate force on the interior with a blend of size and skill that could reach elite levels of college basketball, Lawrence has soft hands, is tougher through congestion than his lean frame implies, and shows no hesitation in elevating high in tight space to hammer the ball home from out past the first-marker. While his game is far from complete in the form of added muscle and skill development, his upside is simply unquestioned.