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January 18
1899 - Martin & Richard Wood buy J.H. Tolfree's Saugus Eating House, rename it Saugus Cafe [story]
Saugus Cafe


By: Mason Nesbitt, Sports Information Director

Lawrence Russell was already running when he received the ball with 4.8 seconds remaining in the first round of the 2018 NAIA national tournament.

The Master’s University men’s basketball team trailed by two points as Russell rushed the length of the floor and banked in an off-balance shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

The play was arguably Russell’s most iconic as a Mustang, and it serves as a picture of the whirlwind nature in which he signed his first professional contract this week.

Monday, Russell’s girlfriend sent game film to the Halifax Hurricanes of the National Basketball League of Canada, and by Thursday night, Russell had agreed to resume his basketball career after a two-year hiatus.

TMU Alum Lawrence Russell

“I’m still in shock that I signed and I’m going,” Russell said. “It all happened in 72 hours.”

After becoming the 25th Master’s men’s basketball player to sign a professional contract, Russell will travel to eastern Canada in September for a season that will run through March. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Russell said he’s been told the season is expected to start on time.

The Hurricanes are a consistent playoff team in the NBL, Canada’s top professional basketball league. They were 8-16 before the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign was canceled in March, but they are only four seasons removed from winning the league’s championship. They envision Russell as a player who can help them get back there.

Specifically, they see the 6-foot-4 Russell as a point guard. Meaning, he will be a team’s primary ball-hander for the first time after sharing that responsibility at Master’s with another future pro, Hansel Atencia.

“They liked my decision-making and liked the way I play on the ball,” Russell said of Halifax, which plays its home games in Scotiabank Centre, a building with a seating capacity of roughly 11,000.

At Master’s, Russell was crucial to a considerable turnaround. The Mustangs won four games in 2015-2016 before Russell arrived as a community college transfer the following offseason.

Master’s proceeded to win 56 games during Russell’s two years on campus. He was an honorable mention NAIA All-American as a junior and a first-teamer as a senior.

The Mustangs won their first Golden State Athletic Conference regular season title in 2018 and earned back-to-back GSAC tournament titles.

That was, however, the last the basketball world would hear from Russell for a while.

Lawrence Russell Signing pro recrop

After turning down an offer to play in Germany (“I just didn’t pull the trigger, I honestly don’t know why. I don’t think I was ready to go”), Russell moved home to Washington state, entered the work force and contemplated a career as a coach or firefighter.

He exercised and competed in pick-up games, even participating in a few tournaments. But a desire to pursue a professional basketball career waned.

Recently, that changed.

A month ago, Russell’s girlfriend, Alexis Garrison, asked if he’d like to play basketball again. He said he would.

So, when Garrison, a college volleyball coach, heard that Halifax was looking to fill out its roster, she emailed Russell’s name and then his game film to the team, not necessarily believing anything would come of it.

Tuesday, a contract arrived. The Hurricanes needed an answer in two days.

“We were talking about the pros and cons and I decided to go for it,” Russell said. “It’s always been a passion of mine to play, and I still have the passion to play. I know I do now.

“In the past, I just didn’t see my life going that direction. Now that I look back on it, I still have the passion to play. I still have the desire to play. I’m still hungry to play. It’s just kind of one of those things where it happens at the right moment.”

This was that moment.

Sitting beside blue and white balloons that matched Halifax’s team colors, and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a Mustang “M”, Russell made it official Thursday.

“This opportunity came along and everyone was like, ‘You can’t pass up on it, take the chance,’ and here I am,” Russell said.

Russell said his time at Master’s had a major impact on him.

“Coach Starr always taught me to think about the team, play the team game, think about the next play and always keep my head up. Never get down on myself,” Russell said. “And he taught me that I can change the game in many other ways than simply scoring.

“… He really changed my life when I was at Master’s.”

Starr is happy Russell is getting an opportunity to fulfill a dream.

“He is a flat-out winner,” Starr said. “He was a leader and a huge reason for the recent turnaround in the TMU basketball program.”

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