A single comment motivated Mason Lawson to find his competitive edge.
As a freshman, the point guard from Dorchester had a solid debut off the bench for Boston Latin Academy’s junior varsity boys’ basketball squad. The next day at practice, varsity coach Dan Bunker challenged Lawson by telling him that he didn’t practice with the same intensity.
Lawson remembers balling his fist in anger, tears welling in his eyes as Bunker’s words rang in his head for weeks — through every practice, every extra workout, and every game until he cracked the varsity roster.
“That first JV game, [Lawson] stood out, but I didn’t see that in practice,” said Bunker, now in his 15th season at BLA.
“So I really tried to push him to get that edge all the time. Getting that out of him his freshman year really helped him get to become what he is — the most competitive kid I’ve ever coached.”
When assistant coach Stephan Miller saw Lawson’s determination, he offered to put him through extra workouts. Along with fellow senior guard Abdulahi Aden, Lawson put in extra sessions with Miller over the past three years and played for Miller on the Boston Warriors during AAU season.
Miller caught Bunker’s eye while working out with his brother, Rayshawn, a 2016 BLA graduate who went on to play at UMass and Albany. Rayshawn scored 1,000 points and was a two-time conference all-star, but Stephan Miller said his brother is still bothered by failing to make the Boston City League Tournament.
The same motivation drives Lawson, who last February led BLA to its first BCL final appearance since 1998, and scored a team-high 19 points in a loss to TechBoston.
“My sophomore year we were two games off making ‘Cities,’” said Lawson, whose older brother, Quentin Humphrey (’11) played at BLA and father, Colin, played at Cambridge in the late 1980s.
“I decided the next year, I’m not staying home, so that summer I went crazy working out with [Miller], and my junior year you could see the hunger in the way I played.”
The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 12 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals per game while earning his second BCL All-Star selection. But in the final at Madison Park, Lawson felt his team was unprepared for the moment, and criticized himself for missing several free throws in a 63-47 loss.
“That was our first huge game, and it showed,” said Lawson. “But we played better in the [state tournament] because of it, and now going into this season, we feel we’ve got to win `Cities’.”
BLA (8-0) earned a first-round bye as the top seed in the BCL Tournament, which will be played without spectators at the higher seed this year, instead of the usual packed house at Madison Park. The Dragons take on Charlestown (7-1) Friday at 5:45 p.m., and hope to host either TechBoston (6-2) or New Mission (5-2) in the title game Saturday afternoon (time TBA).
With Lawson, Aden, Tianu Santos, and Tufts commit Mohamud Ali serving as senior leaders, the Dragons have more experience than their rivals, and more motivation to derive from setbacks.
“Since this group was in ninth and tenth grade, we’ve talked about how this whole thing is a process,” said Bunker, who helped BLA to a state finals appearance as a senior in 1998.
“Those “L’s” stand for Learning, and we had plenty of it those years. I’d like to think we learned from our loss in the BCL championship too, and hopefully we’re prepared to get two wins.”
For most of his career, Lawson admits he has internalized those lessons to fuel his own competitive fire. But that didn’t seem to be enough in the BCL Tournament last year, so the self-admitted introvert came into his senior season determined to become more vocal as a leader.
“[Lawson is] our team identity now,” said Bunker. “As competitive as he is, he’s made everyone else the same by going at them in practice.”
Lawson continues to fill the stat sheet, averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals, showing the same defensive promise that Miller saw from the savvy freshman during his first JV games.
While the fans won’t be there to watch, Lawson and the rest of the Dragons senior class will have plenty of supporters pulling for them from afar this weekend.
“They’re great kids that are motivated and I just knew in the long run, they wouldn’t waste this opportunity,” Miller said about Lawson and Aden’s commitment to workouts.
“It’s been a great run watching them from freshman year now growing into adults, and a BCL championship is the final touches for them. That’s definitely the main thing on their mind.”
▪ Dracut was seeded last in the Merrimack Valley Conference Cup Division 2 Tournament after an up-and-down regular season produced a 3-7 record.
The Middies heard chatter from league counterparts that they did not belong in the playoffs, but used that motivation to upset top-seeded Methuen in the semifinals before winning the league title with a 73-66 win over North Andover last Thursday behind 33 points from junior guard Adrian Torres and another 23 from senior Kevin Agyemang.
Coach Brian Myers, who guided a 10-10 Dracut team in 2019 to a Division 3 North title, said his players bought in with intensity and connectivity during the playoff run.
“We were in complete elation after the win,” said Myers. “It was a season like no other. We won the North two years ago and it’s hard to compare them both but this one was special because we came together. Many doubted us and quite a few thought we didn’t belong here.”
▪ Newburyport capped a 12-0 season in the Cape Ann League with a 65-50 win over North Reading in the CAL vs. Cancer Kinney Tournament final last Thursday.
The Clippers won in a variety of ways.
“One game we had 28 offensive rebounds and took seven charges, another game we had 28 assists and moved the ball well,” said Newburyport coach Dave Clay. “This group was problem solvers in general. They don’t look to point fingers or complain. They just want to solve whatever is in front of them and it was a unique team to be around.”
With the graduation of All-Scholastic Casey McLaren, senior guard Jacob Robertson became the focal point on offense. After adding 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, Robertson evolved from a spot-up shooter to a complete offensive player.
Robertson averaged 20 points a game and broke McLaren’s program 3-point record with his 183rd career triple in the win over North Reading. Robertson finished his career 70 points shy of 1,000, but leaves with the fifth most points in program history.
Contributions from junior guard Max Gagnon and senior forwards Tommy Jahn and Andrew Cullen were also pivotal.
“This is the first team I came in with because it’s my fourth year at Newburyport and this group means a lot to me,” said Clay. “They raised the academic standards of our program and they truly cared about each other. This is the first and only team we ever had where we never heard one negative comment from one teammate to another all year. They set a great standard.”
Correspondent Matt Doherty also contributed.