Steal, layup in final seconds clinch state title for Belleville West
Belleville West senior guard Lawrence Brazil isn’t a knock-down 3-point shooter or a lock-down defender.
But for the past two years, Brazil has been a major impact player on a Belleville West team that has won 49 of 51 games, earned national recognition and is currently 17-0, the top-ranked Class 4A team in Illinois.
The 5-11, 155-pound Brazil spent his first two seasons at Christian Brothers College Prep in St. Louis, then transferred to West in time to help the Maroons to the Class 4A state championship last season.
If West is to repeat, Brazil will have a hand in it. In the words of Maroons coach Joe Muniz, Brazil is a “winner and a leader.”
“Lawrence was a good player when he got here two years ago. I think he’s matured since that time on both offense and defense,’’ Muniiz said after practice on Monday. “When he first got here, he may have been a little soft. He wasn’t aggressive enough and he may have been a little soft with the ball.
“But over the course of the last two years, I tell you, he just makes big play after big play and makes big shot after big shot.’’
Brazil has been at his best in big games. Last spring at Peoria’s Carver Arena, he scored a team-high 18 points and clinched the Maroons first state championship with a steal in the final seconds of an overtime 60-56 win over Chicago’s Whitney Young.
In the title game of this year’s Centralia Holiday Tournament, with senior Keith Randolph out with the flu, Brazil scored a career-best 30 points as the Maroons rallied for a 62-57 win over Alton.
“I think a lot of it is I’m playing with more confidence this season. I’m more mature and I think I’m more focused when it comes to playing in big games,’’ Brazil said. “I’m more aggressive with the basketball. I need to attack to get my teammates open. Especially with me being the point guard this year, I need to get the ball to Keith and EJ (Liddell) and people like that.’”
Currently, he’s second on the Maroons with 13.4 points per game — shooting better than 50 percent from the field — and averaging three rebounds, 4.3 assists and nearly two steals per game.
While Liddell and Randolph have commanded the attention of college recruiters, with the former picking Ohio State and the later signing on to play football for Lovie Smith at Illinois. Brazil’s college future is still unknown.
That happens when you are 5-11 in a game dominated by big strong 6-3 and taller point guards.
“At this point I’m not disappointed because I know if I keep playing well that the offers will come,’’ Brazil said. “There a lot of coaches out there who can help me get where I need to go if I can’t go to Ohio State or Illinois.
“The media knows what I can do, but I do feel sometimes there are some coaches who overlook me a little bit.... I know what I can do and I believe it shows right now.’‘
One person who knows that Brazil can be an impact player at the college level is Liddell. Rivals on the court while growing up in the metro east, the duo has blended well since Brazil’s return from the other side of the river two years ago.
“Lawrence means everything to this basketballl team,’’’ Liddell said. “On the court he knows what everybody loves to do. He watches film, He knows the other team which helps him break defenses down.
“Lawrence will get some some college offers. He wasn’t on the best circuit this summer but he keeps playing the way he is playing, being a floor general, shooting the ball the way he has, handling the basketball and breaking down defenses the way he can, he will get some more looks.’’’
Muniz said Brazil’s game has improved in all aspects from a year ago.
“I’ll give you an example of that,’’ Muniz said. “Last year in the state title game against Whitney Young we’re down 8-10 points early and I call time out. I’m on the side talking to the other coaches and there is Lawrence in the huddle .telling his teammates ‘come on guys, just a couple of defensive stops and we start rebounding better and we can get right back into the game.’ I look at the team and say ‘OK, that’s the same thing I was going to tell you. Now lets go out and do it.’ We did.
“That’s the type of kid Lawrence Brazil is. He’s a leader and he’s an absolute winner.’’
Brazil for his part, knows he has improvements he has to make to be an impact player at the college level. It starts by getting stronger.
“I believe I have to improve on my defense and learning to do a better job of not forcing things that aren’t there.,’’ Brazil said. “It’s just a matter of being a floor general, protecting the basketball and making sure the offense runs smoothly.
“Right now, my mind is focused on helping us win another state title. Right now, we’re getting there. I believe that if we keep progressing and practicing hard that we’re good enough to repeat as state champions.’’
Muniz is sure pulling for Brazil as well as the rest of his basketball team of which he has a special bond.
“I’ve told people this and I’ve said this before that you can’t measure a kid’s heart. And Lawrence has a big heart,’’ Muniz said. “I don’‘t think Lawrence worries about college offers. He just worried about doing what he can do help us win the next game. If he keeps doing what he is doing, I am certain that things will take care of themselves when he signs on the dotted line in April.”