It’s 5:30 a.m. on a summer day, and Danielle Lawrence is at Butler High School working out.
But Lawrence isn’t working alongside her teammates on the girls’ basketball team. No, she’s sweating with Joe Brown, Ta’Vaughn Morton and other members of the Butler football team.
“She lifts weights with them and goes outside and does footwork drills,” said Gary Wheeler, Butler’s head football coach and an assistant coach with the girls’ basketball program. “She’s here all the time. … You don’t see kids do that very often. Danielle is self-made; she made herself into a basketball player.”
One might think basketball came easily for Lawrence, Butler’s senior leader who will make her fourth trip in five years to the girls’ Sweet 16 this week. Butler (28-3) — No. 2 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Rating — will face No. 14 Newport Central Catholic (29-4) in a first-round game at 7:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.
But Lawrence and her coaches will tell you hard work and dedication turned a skinny fourth-grader — “I wasn’t that good back then,” she said — into an NCAA Division I prospect who has signed with IUPUI.
“She’s a gym rat, and there are very few of those kids who are out there anymore,” Bearettes coach Larry Just said. “There are a lot of kids who think they are, and say they love basketball, but she spends hours upon hours outside of what we do to get herself better.”
Lawrence is a 5-foot-10 guard/forward who leads Butler in both scoring (14.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.2 rpg). Just said her greatest strength is her ability to affect the game in multiple ways, whether it be scoring, rebounding or guarding the opponent’s top player.
But it was a long road for Lawrence to reach star status. She began her career at Butler as an eighth-grader who played in the post “and just made layups,” Wheeler said.
Just realized during Lawrence’s sophomore year that she’d be unlikely to earn a scholarship as a post player and began to develop her guard skills. Dribbling and shooting weren’t much of an issue, but there was one extreme problem.
“She threw the ball all over the place, as most kids do when you’ve never been out there before,” Just said. “She’s gotten more comfortable, and she’s only going to grow more and more.”
Lawrence helped lead her team to the Louisville Invitational Tournament championship earlier this year and was named the Sixth Region’s Player of the Year, but there have been down times.
Lawrence said she was heartbroken when she wasn’t named among the seven finalists for Kentucky Miss Basketball.
“I felt left out,” she said. “But my coaches and my teammates picked me up.”
The Bearettes enter the Sweet 16 on a 16-game winning streak and are considered one of the favorites to take home the championship.
In three previous trips to the Sweet 16, Lawrence never has made the semifinals as Butler lost in the first round in 2010 and in the quarterfinals in 2011 and 2012.
She said this is the best team she’s played on at Butler, and is looking forward to her fourth trip to the Sweet 16.
“It’s awesome, because a lot of people don’t get to go,” she said. “I’ve been happy to make it to Bowling Green, but instead of just being happy to make it, I want to accomplish something. …
“Since I know I can’t be Miss Basketball, I know I have one thing left, and that’s a state title. That would be awesome.”