COLUMBIA — Practice is over, and Keon Lawrence is still shooting.
He stands at the free throw line with a few managers under the basket to snag rebounds and pass the ball back to him.
Every other member of Missouri’s basketball team is either in the locker room or sitting on folding chairs on the sidelines, recuperating from the practice that finished about twenty minutes earlier.
While J.T. Tiller and Marshall Brown sit on the folding chairs to be interviewed, and Leo Lyons and Jason Horton joke with one another on the sideline, another Lawrence free throw finds the bottom of the net.
“Every day, man. I just try to stay on top of my game everyday, because I feel like if I’m not working hard, if I’m going to slack up and not shoot after practice, there’s a good guard out there that’s shooting every day after practice,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said sometimes he even comes to the basketball facilities at midnight or 1 a.m. to shoot extra jumpers.
“The best players are made when other people are sleeping,” Lawrence said. “That’s when players are made, when other people are sleeping and players are in the gym late at night.”
The man recognized as the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is notorious for beginning his workouts in the hours between midnight and sunrise. Mayweather says it gives him a mental edge knowing his opponent is asleep while he trains.
While Lawrence was unaware that he and Mayweather share the late-night urge to practice their sport, he agrees with the boxer’s reasoning.
“When everybody else is asleep, that’s the best time,” Lawrence said. “Just think, everybody else is sleeping, they are going to get up in the morning and work out, you already got your work out, and you’re ready to get another one out in morning.”
Teammates have taken notice the extra work Lawrence puts in.
“You could be hurt, you could be sick, Keon doesn’t care. He’s still going at you 150 percent because he’s trying to work on his game also. He can’t take days off,” J.T. Tiller said. “Every day after practice, he’s like the last guy in the gym, pretty much. We might go through the hardest practice in the world, but after practice you can still catch Keon putting up extra shots.”
When the level of competition has risen, so has Lawrence’s game. His career scoring average in Big 12 Conference games is over two points higher than it is for non-conference games, despite the typically higher quality of the opposition.
This season, Lawrence has scored 31 more points in conference games than non-conference despite playing one less Big 12 contest.
“I think it’s because of me knowing, in the Big 12, you’ve got to step it up another notch,” Lawrence said. “I just come out, with a way different mind set. I bring my A-game, and try to play hard every night against everybody. Which, from here on out, I’m just going to do that for as long as I’m here, with whoever it is.”
Not only has Lawrence played better in Big 12 games for his career, this season’s conference play has brought out his best performance with the team. He has 179 points in 14 conference games this year compared to 171 points in 16 conference games last year. He’s also making 49 percent of his shots in Big 12 play compared to 45 percent last season.
Lawrence said his performance sometimes lives at the level of the competition, which can be a problem if the Tigers are playing a percieved “easy” opponent. But Lawrence said he knows he can’t be playing that way anymore.
“You always want to show up to play against the best, and that’s what Keon does,” Tiller said. “He’s a big-time player and he’s showing why.”
Tiller classified a “big-time player” as someone who can defend one of the better players on the opposing team in addition to being able to score on offense.
Marshall Brown attributes Lawrence’s improvement to getting into a rhythm during the season.
“I think a lot of times at the beginning of the season you’re kind of getting your feet wet, kind of getting the feel for playing against competition again,” Brown said. “When you start to find your niche is right around Big 12 Conference (play) and that’s when you see your numbers start to increase.”
Lawrence said he knows there are better players in the Big 12 and that he wants to be recognized as one of the best. He knows he must not only play harder, but work extra to achieve what he wants.
When he was done being interviewed after this particular practice, Lawrence trotted off in the direction of the Tigers’ locker room. Whether he came back later that night or not, he was still the last Tiger player to walk off the court on that day.
“By the time I leave I’m going to be a hell of a player. I’m going to be up there in a lot of stuff (statistics). I’m just trying to get better, I’m trying to set the tone right now,” Lawrence said.