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VOL. 131 | NO. 216 | Friday, October 28, 2016

What’s Expected of Dedric Lawson This Season? More Versatility, Fewer Hot Wings

By Don Wade

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Dedric Lawson’s accomplishments last season are well-documented. Tied Keith Lee’s University of Memphis record for doubles-doubles by a freshman with 17. Averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Blocked 55 shots.

Memphis sophomore Dedric Lawson averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds last season and was the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year. But as good as he was, more is expected this season. 

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

For that, he was the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year. And now, as a 6-foot-9 sophomore who is up to 236 pounds – more on that later – he is the Co-Preseason Player of the Year in the AAC.

“Dedric is obviously our best player,” said senior Jake McDowell.

Would you believe that’s actually a massive understatement?

Because it probably is. The Tigers have just 11 scholarship players. As a group, they lack size and experience and, until they prove otherwise, will be assumed to also be somewhat talent-deficient. At least as compared to their best player.

Coach Tubby Smith has many good things to say about Lawson, but what stands out from his comments is this admission: “Yeah, I’ll need him to do a lot more than he’s done.”

Translation: If Dedric Lawson isn’t great, the Tigers have little chance to be good.

Lawson, by the way, pretty much says all the right things about the hype that has become his constant companion.

“Staying in the gym, staying humble, all praise go to God for the accolades and awards,” he said. “End of the day, just stay focused and stay grinding.”

Also: “I believe a lot of times (teams) are going to do different gimmick defenses, trapping, so I can make plays for others instead of for myself.”

This, of course, was part of what Smith meant when he said he needs Dedric to do more. Now Smith needs a lot of guys to do more, including Dedric’s brother K.J. Lawson, whose first season was cut short by a foot injury. But the coach really needs all he can get from the guy who almost averaged a double-double as a freshman.

“Dedric is a complete player,” Smith said. “He’s got to continue to improve his defense, his footwork, and get stronger. But as far as understanding the game, he has great instincts.

“He needs to be a facilitator when teams are stacking against him and doing things to try and keep the ball out of his hands, be more of a screener, moving without the ball. I always tell, especially good players, the screener is usually more open than the cutter. So if you want to be a good scorer, a good team player, you need to screen.”

And Lawson does want to be, and do, all those things. This summer he attended the NBA Draft Combine, and let’s just say they had homework for him. In sum: not nearly ready for the next level.

“He got some feedback he needed to hear,” McDowell said. “Maybe it was hard to hear, but he needed to hear, and he’s worked on the things they told him: getting stronger, more athletic. He’s got the shot, he’s got the skills.”

Last season Dedric and K.J. were part of a group text with other college players they knew from camps and the AAU circuit. A basketball support group of sorts. Among the other players in the group text: Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe, LSU’s Antonio Blakeney, Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, and Malik Newman – who has now transferred from Mississippi State to Kansas.

“Every night when somebody played, we’d just be real with each other like, ‘Dang, you didn’t do nothing that game,’” Dedric said. “Or, ‘You had a good game.’ Antonio Blakeney and Isaiah Briscoe, those guys compete over anything. Those guys compete over walking to the door. We all been tight.”

And they all will have their challenges going forward. Several of them, like Lawson, considered being one-and-done but returned to college.

“The NBA is no joke,” Lawson said. “You can go to the league this year and be out the next year.”

A few days ago, the scroll at the bottom of these college players’ TV screens was full of the NBA’s final and notable cuts. As if the point needed more emphasis, there it was.

“All those players are great players,” said Lawson. “D.J. Stephens, I thought he should have made the (Grizzlies). This stuff is not given. It’s a hard job making it to the NBA.”

And truthfully, it will be a hard job to be clearly the best player on the 2016-17 Memphis Tigers. But Lawson has taken to heart that feedback from the NBA Combine. He has added weight and strength, is trying to lower his body fat, and to that end is even attempting to limit his trips to Ching’s Hot Wings.

Like dealing with the all those double-teams he knows are coming his way this season, that won’t be easy.

“It’s right up the street. I try my best to cut back on that a lot,” he said, just a little sad about this particular sacrifice. “Man, honey gold, that’s the best wings in the world.”

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