MANHATTAN — When Kansas State honors its seniors before their final home game on Saturday, much of the applause at Bramlage Coliseum will be reserved for Will Spradling and Shane Southwell. They have been major players for the Wildcats, starting games in four seasons and piling up 92 victories.
But don’t be surprised if Omari Lawrence receives a nice ovation, too.
Though he can seem like the forgotten senior of his class, the Bronx, N.Y., native has left his own subtle mark on the program.
Without Lawrence playing through cramps and scoring nine points, K-State would not have taken down Kansas last month. Without him stepping up in place of slumping Wesley Iwundu, they might have lost to TCU, a game they could ill afford to drop. And they certainly would not be blessed with the depth they are currently using to make a case for the NCAA Tournament.
“Omari has been a good story the last six weeks,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He really had an attitude change and has been very, very positive and been a good teammate. He had some really nice performances, including the win against Kansas. ... He has made big plays for us.”
Big plays were the expectation when Lawrence announced he was headed to Manhattan. He began his college career at St. John’s, starting one game, playing in 25 and contributing on a team that reached the NIT as a freshman. Many thought he would build on that at K-State after sitting out one season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. But a scholarship miscommunication with former coach Frank Martin left him at Cloud County Community College in Concordia instead of K-State during his redshirt year.
The transition was difficult.
“It was definitely a bit of a change coming out here and seeing cows and windmills and all different types of surroundings,” Lawrence said. “It was real quiet. New York is real loud and noisy.”
Lawrence eventually adapted. He describes the move as “a good change of pace,” that allowed him to block unwanted distractions and focus on basketball. Still, it would have been nice to spend a year learning K-State’s system behind the scenes instead of sitting out in junior college.
He thinks that led to struggles in his first year. Martin’s tough coaching style also wore on him.
“My confidence was shot a little bit, then Bruce came,” Lawrence said. “He has been a great leader to me and really helped me out in my career.”
Indeed, Lawrence had his moments as a junior, playing in 31 games and scoring a career-high 12 points in a win over Texas. As a senior, it seemed like he could start, and he was part of the starting lineup for the first game.
But his best moments came after Iwundu overtook him. Or, as Weber puts it, Lawrence accepted his role.
“I’m just a senior leader,” Lawrence said. “I just give a lot of energy on and off the court. I want to be a mentor in the locker room, making sure things are going right. On the court ... I have been playing with the motto: be positive no matter what. Anything that comes in my life, whether it be basketball or something else, always think positive and think happy thoughts.”
Weber knew Lawrence would be an important member of K-State’s rotation when Lawrence convinced Iwundu to stay after practices so they could work on their shots together.
“That’s your competition,” Weber said. “That’s a big step.”
Lawrence was happy to offer the assistance. Helping people is what he does. He graduated from K-State in 2013 and is pursuing a Master’s degree in family studies. He wants to start a nonprofit organization that helps single mothers when his basketball career is over.
For now, though, he is only focused on helping his basketball team. If he continues playing the way he has, that won’t be a problem.
“As a senior, are you going to perform well? That’s the goal, to have your best year as a senior,” Weber said. “In Omari’s case, that is definitely the situation. He has progressed, accepted what he is in his role and he has really helped us win some games.”