Untold Gold: From Providence football to Tempe basketball

Kimani Lawrence once had dreams of making it to the NFL, he now enters his fifth season with ASU men's basketball

Graduate student and Sun Devil forward Kimani Lawrence joins reporter Austin Scott to talk about his early aspirations and his journey leading up to his role on the ASU men's basketball team.


AUSTIN SCOTT

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Austin Scott and welcome to another episode of Untold Gold, a podcast from The State Press where we will be sharing the stories of ASU's finest athletes for weeks to come. 

Today we are lucky to have an amazing athlete joining us to tell his journey about how he fell in love with basketball and how he jumped across the coast from Providence, Rhode Island to Tempe, Arizona. ASU men's basketball graduate student forward Kimani Lawrence is returning for his fifth season as a Sun Devil and is looking to build off a career year in the 2020-2021 season, where he averaged 8.1 points per game, and a career-high five rebounds per game.

He also joined a historic club: having 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game, back in February of this year.

Kimani, it's a pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks for taking the time out of your day and how's everything been going for you, man?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Pretty good.

AUSTIN SCOTT

All right. For sure man. So, let's just kind of start off with this. I like to ask really any athlete this: just kind of growing up as a kid, what other sports did you play? Was it just basketball? Did you play football, baseball, like, hockey? I don't even know, soccer, maybe?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Actually, growing up, my first sport was football. I always wanted to go to the NFL. Instead of playing basketball on the court, me and my friends would always just be playing football in random yards or random fields. So, growing up, football was my main sport.

AUSTIN SCOTT

What was your go-to position?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

I mean, I feel like everybody wants to be a quarterback or something. I feel like everyone wants to be a quarterback, running back. I wanted to be one of the guys that really got the ball a lot. Once I started playing for real, I played a little bit of everything. I was a tight end, I played a year at quarterback. Some of my favorite positions were on defense, though. I think DE.

AUSTIN SCOTT

Okay, well, who's your favorite football team?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Patriots. 

AUSTIN SCOTT

Patriots? Okay.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

I'm a New England guy, yeah, Patriots.

AUSTIN SCOTT

For sure. So, when did that football journey sort of end? Because, I mean at first you just started playing with your boys and then you kind of moved on and actually started playing, so when did that football journey end?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

My last year of football was freshman year in high school. After that, I started taking basketball a lot more seriously. I started growing a little bit more, getting a lot better. So yeah, after my freshman year I stopped and basketball really took off.

AUSTIN SCOTT

Yeah, for sure. So, when did that basketball journey kind of start? Did you also play basketball as a kid or did it take a while for you to actually pick up basketball?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

No, I started playing basketball when I was young. Probably started playing organized basketball when I was like nine, 10. I didn't really like it that much. You know, I wasn't really good, but as time went on, I started getting a little bit better. I actually quit when I was in like, seventh grade. Sixth, seventh grade. I quit playing AAU. I didn't really like it. I just wanted to focus on football. 

AUSTIN SCOTT

Okay.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

And then I started growing a lot more and then I started getting really good. And then from there it was history.

AUSTIN SCOTT

So when you stopped playing with AAU, did you kind of play on your own? Like you just told me that you started getting really good. How was that journey? Were you kind of playing independently or were there other like small, independent leagues you were playing for?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

I just started playing with my friends, you know, that's really it.  I was just playing at the courts and stuff like that, just pick up. I feel like that's where you really learn how to play, like in sayings and toughness and stuff like that. So, you know, it worked out. 

AUSTIN SCOTT

Yeah, no, for sure, that's awesome to hear. And then, I know you were born in Rhode Island, Providence. It's a pretty small state, probably not a lot of buzz. I mean, I've never been there personally, but, just talk about that experience, you know, being born in Rhode Island. 

You know, kind of starting your journey out there and obviously what kind of transition, you know, you got a lot of media, you got a lot of looks here in Phoenix, big sports town, but starting in Providence, how was that experience with not a lot of marketing necessarily?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Well, growing up in Providence, it was hard. There weren't a lot of guys to look up to that wanted to do the things I wanted to like sports and stuff like that. 

There weren't a lot of guys really making it to the pros or even going to play Division-I basketball. It's come a long way from then to now. But back then, there wasn't nobody to look up to. 

There was one guy, Ricardo Ledo. Ricky D. He was like the only guy to look up to. But when I was young, he was still young. He was still like in high school. But I really looked up to guys like Kobe and stuff like that, you know, he's the reason I even started liking basketball.

AUSTIN SCOTT

Nice. And so, just kind of playing football for a while, would you say once you started to transition and know that basketball was your calling, did playing football all those years sort of help you with the physicality and just sort of, maybe being ahead of other people in your age range? Being able to take hits, hard fouls, stuff like that. Did playing football help with basketball at all?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Yeah, definitely. It definitely did. I was just playing football in the yard with no equipment, and me and my friends tackling each other as hard as we can, so it definitely translated to basketball and just like, the toughness and being able to take a hit and stuff like that. It taught me a lot about just grit and just getting back up and going again.

AUSTIN SCOTT

Yeah, that's awesome. So, kind of going through high school and starting to pursue basketball in a smaller market, how were you able to kind of, go throughout those years and sort of build your own brand to get those colleges to look at you? How was that process in terms of, you know, getting recruited and putting your name out there? Did you kind of have to do that yourself? Did you have high school coaches, parents, whoever it was that kind of helped you with that?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Well, my AAU coach, he played a big role in my success in basketball and just putting me in front of the right people to showcase my talents. His name's Todd. I played for the Expressions.

It was an AAU team based out of Boston. So, Boston had a lot more publicity and a lot more guys going to the pros and stuff like that in Rhode Island. And Boston is not too far from Rhode Island. 

So, I went out there, started playing AAU there, and from there I went to prep school and then from there, that's where I really got playing in front of coaches and scouts that knew a lot more about basketball. And it got my name out there.

AUSTIN SCOTT

Yeah, for sure. And just kind of looking through some of your stuff. You know, once you were starting to be interested in getting recruited by colleges, I mean, you had a lot of colleges looking at you.

I know you had the Florida Gators, the USC Trojans. 

You had a lot of colleges that showed some interest in you and then you eventually chose to go to Arizona State of course, kind of talk about that decision process and how you came down to that decision. Was that a personal decision? Did you have a conversation with maybe your family, your AAU coach?

How did that process go down?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Well, it was a personal decision, you know, my family and my coach, they were really good about letting me make my own decision and not trying to tell me where they want me to go and stuff like that. 

I wanted to go somewhere I was wanted and where I was needed. At the time ASU was one of Hurley's first few years. I think they had Kodi Justice playing before. So, I'm like, man, they can use me, you know, they can use me and they need a guy at my position. 

So, that really affected my decision. And I really liked Hurley as a coach. At the time, Rashon Burno was the assistant coach and me and him had a really good relationship. He was doing most of the recruiting and you know, they embraced me here, so I'm glad it worked out.

AUSTIN SCOTT
So, not only was it the people here that made you feel welcomed, but you also kind of saw that opportunity where you maybe saw that this team needed [you], and obviously everybody wants the opportunity to play and so that makes sense for sure.

So, kind of jumping into your collegiate playing days, obviously you're a graduate student now, so you've been here for a long time. Going into your freshman year, what were your initial expectations for yourself, just playing at the collegiate level, jumping across the coast. 

I mean, coming from Providence, Rhode Island now, being in Phoenix, you know, Tempe, Arizona, how has that transition been for you?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

I was used to living away from home and stuff like that. I was living away from home since like eighth, ninth grade. 

AUSTIN SCOTT

Okay.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

So, I was used to that. Man coming into college as a freshman, I’ll just say, I thought I was one and done. I thought it was over with. After this year, I'm out of here. 

But, you know, I stayed a little bit longer than I thought I was going to stay, but out of that, I got a degree and I was able to make some relationships with people here that I’ll have forever. And like I said, it worked out. I went through a couple of injuries so this COVID year was a blessing giving me an extra year to come back and play.

AUSTIN SCOTT

It’s always good to hear athletes that can say COVID was a good thing. 

I'm not saying COVID is a good thing. Don't want to say that, but you know, it kind of gave you the opportunity to recover and obviously heal right, instead of, you know, having to possibly rush your way back or anything like that. So, that's good to hear. 

So yeah, like you said, I know your freshman year, the playing time was more minimal. And then, I mean, going into your sophomore year, you were playing 25 minutes a game. So, talk about that huge jump in playing time and how you were able to kind of go from somebody who didn't get a lot of minutes and then next year you were a big role and a big factor on the team.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

You know, I just worked hard. 

I worked really hard and coming into college, you think you work hard and in high school you think you work hard and then you come here and then you're like, okay, I wasn't working hard. So, then you work hard coming in your freshman year. And then after that, you have a freshman year where you barely play and you're like, damn, I thought I already worked hard that year. I thought I was working my hardest. So, it was just like a constant, trying to dig deep and trying to find a way to get even better and working even harder. 

At some point I was working out like three or four times a day. All summer I could've played a full 40 minute game and been fine, you know? So, that was the approach I took from that point on every year. I always come back in the best shape. I always try to put on a couple of pounds of muscle, work on the things that I need to work on. So, even being here that freshman year helped me a lot.


AUSTIN SCOTT

Yeah, definitely. And so, kind of jumping into your junior and senior year, obviously now you're an upperclassmen. You've had the chance to work on your skills and work with the players and the coaches. You're not the new guy anymore. You’re one of the veterans on the team. 

So, these last two to three years, how has it been sort of, now being a veteran on the team, knowing your way around and just instead of being that freshmen or that new guy, kind of transitioning into a veteran slash leadership role for the team?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

It's been fun, just being able to grow and learn new things, learning the game. 

Like, I've been with Hurley for a long time, so I know what he is looking for in a good practice. I know what he thinks a good practice is, I know what he thinks a bad practice is. So, I just try to be an extension of him to the guys, you know? 

A lot of the things he said to me over the years, I say to them, you know, when someone's messing up, I know how to lift them up while still keeping their confidence and stuff like that. So yeah, I've been embracing the role and I've been having a lot of fun doing it. I still have been learning things as we go, you know, I still have to learn to be a better leader and use my voice a little better, so, you know it goes both ways.

AUSTIN SCOTT

Yeah, for sure. And who are some guys to look out for this year? I know, Marcus Bagley is coming back for an extra year. Whether it's someone that maybe the media is not putting a lot of spotlight on because they haven't played a game and they're just coming into their first year, or maybe it's a guy who's been around for awhile — who are a couple of guys that you've kind of seen in practice or, you know, either on or off the court so far that you see making a big impact this year?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

There's been a lot of guys that've been making big impacts. Lu (Luther Muhammad) has been really good. Marreon (Jackson), the transfer has been really good for us. We all mesh well together. Playing really well together. 

We have some of the freshmen that have been doing well too. Enoch (Boakye) is a tank, he's huge. Jamiya (Neal) has been really good. So, yeah. Guys like Jamiya who have a lot of potential to make a big impact, sometimes Hurley is a little hard on him because he sees the potential. So, I'm just there at the time, like, "Hey, I've been there before. Don't take it personal. He just knows how good you can be. Don't focus on how he's saying it, focus on the message."

You know what I mean? 

So, there's just little things like that just to keep guys' heads straight and he's been responding well to it. He's grown a lot since he's been here, and same with all the other freshmen. 

Everyone's just been growing a lot, being in the gym together all summer. We didn't have that last year, so everyone's getting to learn from each other and getting to compete with each other, and the guys are a lot better.

AUSTIN SCOTT

So, kind of going into this year, you're a graduate student. Maybe talk about that decision to stay for that fifth year and talk about the expectations for yourself this year in terms of improving your game and the expectations for the team this year.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

I kind of knew I was going to come back. 

I had surgery in September last year and, like, I've had surgery before, I know how that affects you. So, I had a conversation with Hurley to just say, "If this year is to go as planned, I want to come back," and he was really excited about that. And he said, of course, I always have a place here.

So, I got some momentum halfway through the season. I want to carry that throughout postseason, which, you know, we had some injuries, some guys that didn't play because they were sick and stuff like that, things didn't go how we wanted it to go. So, I just figured I carry on to the next year, I got a free year to come back and I thought I'd take advantage of it. I liked the team that Hurley was putting together. I liked the assistant coaches that he brought in. And it all just worked out.

AUSTIN SCOTT

For sure. And then, just expectations for the team this year, you know just coming back.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

I have some really high expectations for the team this year. You know, we've got a bunch of guys that know how to play. We've got guys that have played in big games, that performed well in big games. They have been to the tournament before. 

We’ve got assistant coaches that have been to Final Fours, been to Kentucky. You got guys all over the place that bring different pieces to the puzzle and once we put it together, man, I think we're going to be a really good team. We're really balanced, Hurley good job bringing in some "bigs," bringing in some new guys and filling in the shoes of the past guards that we had. 

And then we got the leadership aspect of guys that just know what it takes to win big games. And then on top of that, everyone has a chip on their shoulder. Everyone has something to prove. Hurley has something to prove, I have something to prove, the transfers that come in from other majors have something to prove. 

So, you just see everyone just has that dog in them everyday, like the way we compete, and it's going to be fun to watch.

AUSTIN SCOTT

That's awesome. And you know, everybody's looking forward to the season. Everybody's looking forward to seeing you play out there as well this year.

Let me just ask you a couple of fun, rapid fire questions, and then I'll send you your way. On a Friday night, what do you do around here for fun, you know, whether it's your friends or the teammates, whether it's here in Tempe or Phoenix, what's like the go-to spot for some fun?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Friday night, we usually just chill with each other, you know, we really do play a lot of video games. It even gets competitive over that, you know? So, that's usually what a Friday night's looking like. Just the guys hanging out, chilling, playing games together just chilling.

AUSTIN SCOTT

What are your go-to video games? Do you play NBA 2K, or do you play shooting games? What do you got?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

I love Modern Warfare, Warzone, I love it. I play Madden, I play Madden a lot. I don't really play 2K too much. I play Madden a lot, like the football game.

AUSTIN SCOTT

You got like Madden Ultimate Team? Or are you just playing online with your boys?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

I just play online with my boys. 

AUSTIN SCOTT

Okay. For sure.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Keep it casual.

AUSTIN SCOTT

All right. Who's your favorite NBA player right now? And who's your favorite NBA player of all time? They can be the same. I know you talked about Kobe earlier.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

All time, definitely Kobe. Right now, Kevin Durant, best player in the league.

AUSTIN SCOTT

All right, for sure. I know you're a tall guy yourself. Is he someone you try to maybe model your game after a little bit, or is there someone in the NBA that you try and kind of look at to model your game after?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Oh yeah. Kevin Durant. Definitely. I feel like if you can model your game after Kevin Durant, you got a pretty good shot. So, him, I like guys like PJ Tucker, Draymond Green, just guys master their role doing the little things like that. So, I try to model my game after them too.

AUSTIN SCOTT
You got a favorite NBA player or NBA game of all time, you know, watching as a kid or just a favorite NBA memory? 

KIMANI LAWRENCE

My first NBA memory, what really got me starting to like basketball and like Kobe and stuff, I think it was 2009 Finals against the Magic. 

Kobe just went crazy from that point on, I just loved Kobe and really started to like basketball a little bit more. You know what I mean?

AUSTIN SCOTT

That's a good memory for sure. All right. One last rapid fire question. I know basketball consumes most of your time and most of your life, you probably, definitely, don't have a problem with that, I know you love basketball. You talked about video games, but what would you say is a second hobby that maybe no one really knows about? 

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Second hobby?

AUSTIN SCOTT

Maybe even a guilty pleasure, something no one really knows that you like to do when you have some free time. 

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Man, free time.

AUSTIN SCOTT

Free time, does that even exist?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Free time, what is that? Man, I don't even know. Since I got to Arizona, I started liking going outdoors a little bit, going on hikes and stuff like that.

AUSTIN SCOTT

You been on any hikes? Like cool hikes here in the Arizona area?

KIMANI LAWRENCE

The best one I’ve been to is Camelback Mountain. 

Like to me, that's just like crazy, from where I come from, they don't have nothing like that. People out here are probably like, "Oh, it's just Camelback," but every time I go there, I'd just be amazed, like sending pictures to my friends, like, "yo, I climbed a mountain," you know?"

So yeah, I guess you could say hikes. I like to shop a lot. I got a shopping problem for sure. 

AUSTIN SCOTT

Well, that's kind of all I got for you. I'm going to send you away. 

Thank you so much for joining me, man. And you know, I wish you the best of luck to you this season and have some good practices and you talked about meshing with the team. Well, I think it's just going to be a great year for you. 

You got the media back, you got fans back, kind of have that normalcy back a little bit. So, it’s going to be great to see.

KIMANI LAWRENCE

Thank you.

AUSTIN SCOTT

For more content on ASU men's basketball. Make sure to check out The State Press website to find my profile piece that I wrote on Kimani Laurence based off this podcast.

And while you're at it, check out the Pac-12 media day story State Press sports reporter David Rodish and I wrote from San Francisco and the season preview for men's basketball that State Press reporter Lauren Hertz wrote. 

For the State Press, I'm Austin Scott, and I hope you all have an incredible day. Peace out!


Reach the reporter at ascott43@asu.edu and follow @AustinScott_16 on Twitter.

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