Southern Conference Quarterfinals

College of Charleston vs. Western Carolina-The Citadel winner

When: Today, 8:30 p.m.

Where: U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, N.C.

Radio: WTMZ 910-AM

Cougars glad London native Lawrence picked basketball over soccer

By ANDREW MILLER

apmiller@postandcourier.com

Make no mistake about it, Andrew Lawrence is an English gentleman.

Signs of his homeland are all around his room on the College of Charleston campus. More than 4,000 miles and an ocean separates Lawrence from his hometown of London, but the city and its people are never far from his thoughts.

The College of Charleston basketball team’s senior guard considers himself a Brit, though he has lived in the U.S. for the last six years and has absorbed some of his adoptive country’s culture.

“I’m an English guy, no doubt about it,” said Lawrence. “I have all English stuff in my room. British flag, soccer stuff, everything. I drink hot tea, I do it all. I’m English.”

With an American father and an English mother, Lawrence has dual citizenship. But when he’s talking in class or around town with friends, Lawrence could pass for someone from the Midwest.

Of course, there are moments when Lawrence lets his cockney accent seep into his conversation.

“Every once in a while it’ll come out, but not very often,” Lawrence said with a chuckle. “I can talk with both accents and change it up in mid-sentence. I do have both, they are in arsenal. When I’m back home I talk with an English accent and when I’m here I talk like an American. It’s easier for everyone to understand me.”

Lawrence was soccer prodigy as a kid and played for the prestigious Chelsea F.C. Academy. He was dynamic striker for Chelsea when he decided to give up soccer and dedicated himself to basketball.

Basketball is in his blood. Lawrence’s father, Renaldo, played for former Cougars coach Bobby Cremins at Appalachian State and was drafted by the NBA’s San Diego Clippers. His uncle, David, played six professional seasons in Europe.

“I didn’t play a lot of basketball when I was growing up, it was all soccer, soccer, soccer,” Lawrence said. “When I was 15, the coaches said I needed to make a decision and pick one sport and I chose basketball. The more I played basketball, the more I loved it.”

The Cougars are certainly glad he did.

After spending his first two years coming off the bench for the Cougars, Lawrence has been a mainstay in the Cougars’ lineup for the past two seasons. He has molded himself into one of the program’s all-time elite guards.

Going into this weekend’s Southern Conference tournament in Asheville, N.C., Lawrence ranks 26th in career scoring with 1,151 career points, seventh in career three-pointers made (203) and 10th in career assists (384).

“Andrew has had a great career,” Cremins said. “He’s such a smart player and he’s improved some part of his game every season he’s been here. I couldn’t be prouder of Andrew’s development over the last four years.”

Having an established point guard in the lineup has been crucial during the Cougars’ transition from Cremins to current coach Doug Wojcik. Wojcik, in his first year at Charleston, has leaned heavily on Lawrence.

“Andrew has bought into what we’re trying to do from day one,” Wojcik said. “Having a senior, a captain, out there has been vital for us. He creates so much for us offensively. We’ve struggled when he’s been out of the lineup.”

Orangeburg and sweet tea

Although Lawrence grew up in London, every three or four years he would travel across the Atlantic for an extended visit to Orangeburg to see his father’s family. It was during those visits he was exposed to all things American and Southern, which included basketball and sweet tea.

“I normally drink hot tea, but I grew to really like sweet tea as well,” Lawrence said. “The only place I drink sweet tea is in South Carolina. This is the only place they make it right.”

During one of those visits, Lawrence and his father drove to Charleston to see Cremins. Cremins met Andrew and then sent one of his players, Tony White, Jr., to check him out on the basketball court.

White came back impressed.

“I wasn’t allowed to watch him play because he was 15, but Tony could see his potential,” Cremins said. “That’s when he got on our radar.”

Another union between the Lawrence family and Cremins seemed to be a natural fit. When Lawrence went to prep school in Virginia, other colleges began to take notice. In the end, Cremins and Charleston won out.

“I knew how my father felt about coach Cremins and I loved Charleston,” Lawrence said. “It reminds me a lot of home. It’s got a big city feel downtown. There’s a lot to do and you don’t need a car to get around.”

The Olympics

At 22, Lawrence was the youngest member, and the only college player, to make the British Olympic basketball team this past summer.

Lawrence scored a game-high 19 points in an exhibition game against Nigeria.

The highlight for Lawrence was England’s exhibition game against the United States. He got to play against NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

“I’m on the floor with these guys and I might not have the accolades these guys have, but I felt like I deserved to be there,” Lawrence said. “I’m a competitor and you want to find out where you stand against the world’s best. It was a great experience.”

Lawrence hopes to get a shot at the NBA this summer. But if things don’t work out, he knows that he can play professionally in Europe.

“Andrew has only been playing basketball seriously for five or six years,” Wojcik said. “He has a tremendous skill set. When he steps off the floor for us for the last time, Andrew’s basketball career isn’t going to be over, it’ll be just beginning.”