The tallest New Jersey college basketball player is 5-foot-3 … and she’s the “best player on the court”

Center Sidney Cooks stands side by side on the court at Seton Hall’s Walsh Gym, a foot above point guard Lauren Park-Lane. But don’t let the contrasting heights fool you.

The 5-foot-3 general always finds a way to feed the ball inside to her 6-4 teammate. And during Seton Hall’s New Year’s Eve victory over Butler – for a brief crowd-pleasing one – the roles of the co-captains were reversed.

Cooks bounced a pass around the defenders to Park-Lane as it sliced ​​below the basket for a layup. Not only did the play display Park Lin’s bravery to paint despite her small stature, but her teammates’ confidence in her to finish.

“It’s kind of funny that the keeper and another player can switch those roles. She puts it on with confidence and I can come out and kick the ball when she’s there. It really opens it up for everyone,” said Chefs.

“It’s awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever had a little team like Lauren, but she’s the definition of hard work and confidence.”

In its fourth season, Park-Lane, known affectionately as ‘LP’, has been a catalyst to Seton Hall’s recent success. When the Pirates (13-4, 6-1 BIG EAST) handed No. 24 St. John’s its first loss on Wednesday, it finished with a double-double of 15 points and 11 assists. In a 76-60 victory over Providence on Sunday, she scored 19 points and recorded nine assists.

“I’ve never coached someone with a bigger heart than Lauren, no doubt,” said Seton Hall coach Anthony Bozzella.

Park-Lane averaged 20.5 points per team—third best in the conference—and with her running the show, Seton Hall has won 11 of their last 12 games, including two over AP Top-25 opponents. The Pirates are half a game behind UConn, which is 6-0 in the Big East. This showdown is coming on January 19th.

One of 20 NCAA Division I guards named to the 2023 Nancy Lieberman Award watch list, Wilmington, Delaware, has put itself on the map after receiving only four scholarship offers in high school due to its size.

“I wasn’t drafted and it was hard for me. It was to the point where sometimes I wanted to quit, but my dad always said, ‘No, he’ll come.’ And he was right. Park Lin said. Perfect location in Seton Hall.”

Seton Hall

Seton Hall point guard Lauren Park Lane and family after a December 28 win against Georgetown at Walsh Gymnasium.

Born to play

Park Lane became the eighth player in program history to reach 1,500 points during last week’s win over Georgetown — scoring 12 of her game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter as her family sat on the court.

Among those in attendance was her older cousin, Doris Park Sherman, who had made the trip from California. She is one of several in the family to compete at the NCAA Division I level. She played forward for Pepperdine University from 2009-12.

Park Sherman watched proudly as her cousin struck the beat. Georgetown came back in the third quarter to take a 51-48 lead, but Park Lane changed the momentum in Seton Hall’s favor. She tied things up, 54-54, after stripping the ball for a fast layup. On the next flight down the field, I hit a 3.

“We knew we needed to win this game and that we had to win, so as captain I took it upon myself to take charge of the game, get my shots open, and so did my teammates,” said Park Lane.

I put an exclamation mark on the win at the last minute when I stopped to sink 3 deep with ease. Her large band of family members erupted in cheers.

“Honestly, I’m not surprised by that, but I wanted to come and see her in person. She’s the truth. Despite her size, she’s the best player on the court,” Park Sherman said.

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Park Sherman is now a high school basketball coach in California, and often shares her team’s highlights with her cousin.

“To be able to see this is really inspiring, because I know basketball players tend to think you have to be tall, you have to be big to play, but it proves everyone wrong, so it’s nice to see that.”

It was hard for Gloria Park to watch her granddaughter double and triple with the embattled Hoyas. But she knows from years of experience that Park Lane can own it. Park remembers the days when her cousin was the only girl competing in the local YMCA league.

“It’s the kind of thing that she chooses to do, so if she has to be out there with the big girls, she tries to play like a big girl,” Park said. “I’m not surprised about that because she works so hard. She was only home for three days during the holidays and was with her trainer for two of those three days. She didn’t come home to relax and eat like everyone else.”

public floor

Park-Lane brings the ball up the court with laser-like focus. She takes up the entire floor, weighing her options long before she gets to her half of the court. According to Bozzella, it’s an ability that caught the attention of WNBA scouts. He was once told that she has a knack for seeing the pitch as well as any player who wants to compete at the next level.

“She has no fear. And I think she has developed that because she works really hard and is very comfortable in her game and in her size,” Bozella said. “She uses her size to her advantage because she works so hard and exercises in so many ways.”

A unanimous selection to the All-BIG EAST First Team last season, Park-Lane led the Pirates to a second-place finish in the WNIT. Through 16 games this season, she’s scored 329 points, with 101 assists, 22 steals – and 34 rebounds.

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She was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll on January 2 for the third time this season for her efforts against Georgetown and Butler. She was also named Player of the Week on December 5.

“I want people to watch her as a basketball player — not because she’s young,” Bozella said. “She’s really good. I’ve coached a lot of taller kids who aren’t good basketball players.”

Before greeting the family after Georgetown’s win, Park Lane stopped to sign autographs and take pictures with the young fans. Her talents earned her respect and brought her to the attention of opponents.

“If only people knew how hard she has already worked to be this small and to be a leader in the team – captain of the team and a wonderful person off the field,” said Cox. “Then everyone will and should love Lauren. There is no doubt.”

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Joey Chandler can be reached at jchandler@njadvancemedia.com

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