By Zach Braziller
From Royal Ivey to Rafer Alston and Daryll Hill, Cardozo has always been known for its guards. At this time of year, Ron Naclerio is usually scrambling for big-bodied forwards.
But with the basketball season just a few weeks way, it is the exact opposite. Cardozo is loaded up front — led by top prospect Jermaine Lawrence — while the backcourt is full of question marks.
“This is the first time in a long, long time I don’t have one guard I can say is the guard,” Naclerio said.
Last year’s mainstays, Shelton Mickell and Chris Gayot, are in college, and Naclerio didn’t use any guards off the bench; he went big instead.
There is potential in the group, whether it will be transfers Omar Williams (Holy Cross) or Kendall Brown (LaSalle), touted incoming freshman Elijah McNeely or inexperienced seniors Rasheed Robinson, Edwin Sainvil or Joshua Lee. Naclerio hopes the backcourt can emulate the group of two years ago, when he just needed production from a few of a large batch.
“I need a couple of the guards to raise their ability,” the coach said. “They will definitely have a piece of us being very successful or mediocre.”
Sainvil, a 5-foot-11 senior, has shown a nice shooting touch from deep, Robinson is tough and can get to the rim and Williams may be the best of all, a speedy slashing type. Naclerio originally planned to have McNeely play junior varsity, but he may be the best point guard in the school.
The frontcourt, meanwhile, could be one of the city’s best. Ryan Yearwood, a versatile 6-foot-7 forward, transferred in from St. John’s Prep, can handle the ball and score inside and out. He’ll likely start alongside Lawrence and senior Tajay Henry. Sven Hunt and Danny Janel will also see minutes off the bench.
The key, obviously, is the 6-foot-9 Lawrence. Now a junior, he is Cardozo’s focal point, a supremely skilled power forward who holds more than a dozen high-major Division I scholarship offers from such schools as St. John’s, Syracuse, Florida and Kansas State, among others.
“Last year he had ups and downs; he showed flashes of brilliance and flashes of being a talented sophomore,” Naclerio said. “This year he’ll have flashes of being the best player in the city by far and have flashes of being in the mix of the best players. By next year, he’ll be a flat-out killer.”
He added: “In baseball, they call guys five-tool players. He can be a five-tool basketball player. He’s just got to put it all together.”
Lawrence’s role is vastly different from last year, when he was merely a piece to the puzzle. Now, as the lone returning starter, with all the big-time colleges after him, he will need to emerge as a leader.
“I’m going to step up to the plate and take the leadership role, do my best to lead us to the championship,” Lawrence said. “Last year I had Shelton, Chris, all of them, I could depend on them to get me the ball. This year I got to really go after the ball myself.”
Naclerio isn’t sure what to expect from this team because of all the new pieces. He’s confident Lawrence and Yearwood are premier forwards in the PSAL. He’s hopeful a few of his guards can become consistent contributors. But unlike the last two teams, which both reached the PSAL Class AA semifinals, he doesn’t know this group well.
“I always hope the sky is the limit,” Naclerio said. “Sometimes when you have the best team, which I had two years ago, you don’t always win it. I think we can be in the mix to win it. I’m hoping we can mirror last year’s team. We weren’t very good early and we kept getting better.”