By Mason Nesbitt, Sports Information Director
For 30 maybe 40 minutes after The Master’s University returned to it locker room inside the bowels of Municipal Auditorium, Lawrence Russell sat at his locker.
The senior did not sulk. He spoke.
In the aftermath of an overtime upset at the hands of Peru State in the first round of the NAIA tournament in Kansas City, Russell personally addressed each teammate and coach. He told them what he felt their strengths on the court were and the kind of impact they could have next year, and he thanked them for what they meant to him.
“He made it personal with every kid,” said head coach Kelvin Starr. “It wasn’t cliche.”
Thursday, the NAIA gave its two cents as to what Russell meant to the Mustangs, naming the 6-foot-4 wing a Division 1 first-team All-American.
It marked the first time a Mustang made the first team since Joey Penberthy in 2000, and it was Russell’s second All-American nod. Last year, he was honorable mention.
“It was an honor to be an All-American,” said Russell, who averaged 16.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. “Not as big as winning a championship or anything. But it’s an honor for all the work I put in, playing hard every game.”
Two other Mustangs made the NAIA’s list.
Sophomore center Tim Soares was named to the third team, and junior Hansel Atencia was an honorable mention.
In a much improved campaign, Soares provided an intimidating presence around the paint, finished third in the NAIA in blocked shots (89), and improved his efficiency on offense.
As for Atencia, he helped pick up the slack on offense after the graduation of All-American Reid Shackelford, averaging 15.5 points and 4.2 assists per game.
Starr was just as impressed with another area of Atencia’s game.
“He grew up a lot on the defensive end,” Starr said.
Said Atencia, “We did not accomplish what we wanted as a team … (But) I still feel that this is something we achieved as a team. There is no way we have three All-Americans without the help of the other 11 players and the coaches.”
Three NAIA All-Americans marks the most TMU has had in any one season. The Mustangs boasted two each in 1995-96, 1999-2000 and 2016-17.
Russell is only the third Mustang to earn first-team honors. In addition to Joey Penberthy, Mike Penberthy was first team in both 1995-96 and 1996-97, and he is considered by many as the greatest player in program history.
So, then, what is Russell’s legacy?
“To me, he’s one of the most humble guys I’ve seen despite of his successes,” Starr said. “… He’s quiet and unassuming and he contributes in so many ways. He bought in 100 percent and has been totally loyal to me as a head coach. You’re going to miss that.”
Master’s — which finished the year 29-3 and won the first regular-season Golden State Athletic Conference title in program history — shouldn’t be missing any other players when it opens 2018-19. The Mustangs are set to return 11 players and add the services of two talented redshirts.
“Love this team. We will miss you (Lawrence),” Atencia tweeted on Thursday.