Dear America: Meet the Lawson brothers from Memphis
K.J., Dedric and Chandler Lawson are three brothers all ranked in the top 15 nationally of their respective classes. They project as college basketball's next Plumlees or Zellers. But for now their parents are just trying to keep them grounded.
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- A conversation develops about which sibling is better, more gifted, more likely to become a future pro any time there are brothers about the same age who play the same sport. People form an opinion about one, then measure the other by that standard, and this is what's happening with K.J. and Dedric Lawson right now.
K.J. is the older of the two.
He's a 6-foot-7 forward ranked in the top 15 of the Class of 2015.
Dedric is a year younger.
He's a 6-foot-8 forward ranked in the top 10 of the Class of 2016.
I spent a few days at the Nike Peach Jam this month witnessing them star for Team Penny and advance to the Final Four of July's most prestigious summer event despite playing up an age group. I sat with college coaches and watched them. I sat with random observers and watched them. At least a dozen times, I asked somebody different which brother they preferred. At least a few of those times, the person pointed behind the bench, at the 6-foot-4 12-year-old with legs that go forever.
His name is Chandler Lawson.
One recruiting service ranks him as the nation's No. 1 seventh-grader.
So, America, consider this your introduction to the next string of elite siblings. They are three brothers who are different ages and all ranked in the top 15 nationally of their respective classes. They are the next Zellers. They are the next Plumlees. They figure to be factors on the recruiting trail and in college basketball for much of the next decade.
"I think we're going to be," said K.J. Lawson. "I know we're going to try to be."
Memphis has a long and rich history of producing basketball prospects -- from Larry Finch to Penny Hardaway, from Elliot Perry to Lorenzen Wright and countless other professionals. It's among the reasons why the University of Memphis has become a nationally relevant program and top-25 job for coaches, because of the natural recruiting base the city provides almost every year.
But there has never been a set of brothers like the Lawson brothers.
They are all long.
They are all skilled.
And though nothing in this sport is ever guaranteed, it's hard to imagine them further developing into anything less than effective high-major players, and who knows where the ceiling might be? To put things into proper context, understand that The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy tweeted from the Peach Jam that Dedric Lawson "could be America's best young prospect," then consider that lots of people think Chandler Lawson, the 12-year-old, will actually be better because he's already two inches taller and supposedly superior to what Dedric was at the same age. And, again, K.J. is ranked among the top 15 prospects in his class. So this a unique deal rooted in great genes.
Keelon and Dedra Lawson are the parents.
Both are basketball players who became basketball coaches.
Keelon played collegiately at UAB and LeMoyne-Owen, and he's now a state-championship-winning coach at Hamilton High in Memphis, where NBA veterans Todd Day and Shawne Williams count among the alumni. Dedra also played at LeMoyne-Owen, then became the women's coach at her alma mater. So what we have here is a couple whose lives revolve around basketball. Consequently, the Lawson boys -- and there are five total, by the way; the youngest, Jonathan is also a basketball player, a fifth-grader with a AAU national title to his credit -- have all been raised around the sport.
"Our mom was a college coach," Dedric said. "So we were just always in the gym."
The byproduct of that -- and their unusually long arms and legs -- is a family of skilled forwards who understand both how to play and play together, and the byproduct of that is a world that's changing a little more each day. The scholarship offers are rolling in, most recently on Monday from Florida State. And there will be plenty more (as recruiting analyst Evan Daniels noted on Twitter) with the only real question being whether certain programs will pass because of the assumption in basketball circles that the Lawsons are essentially already signed, sealed and delivered for Josh Pastner and Memphis.
It should be noted that the Lawsons don't deny this as a likely outcome. They're an extremely close family, and the only way Keelon could watch his sons play regularly at the next level would be for them to play at Memphis because of his job as a high school coach in the city. Beyond that, Pastner hired assistant Robert Kirby from LSU this summer, and did you know that Kirby is cousins with the Lawsons?
"The boys like Memphis, and Memphis is in a good spot," Keelon Lawson acknowledged. "So this is Josh's for the taking. But he's still got to court them. And Josh is funny. He wants them to commit [now.] He was like, 'You know there aren't many basketball schools in the south. They're all football schools. The only basketball schools are us and Kentucky.' And I said, 'Josh, well then you're lucky Coach Cal hasn't called yet!'"
(Note to Keelon Lawson: That's UK's John Calipari on Line 1.)
Let the record show that Keelon Lawson was joking while telling this story, just basically playing around with Pastner, with whom he has a terrific relationship. I hope that's clear. But it's still a funny anecdote that offers a glimpse into what the family is and will be dealing with, probably until their seventh-grader signs a national letter of intent with some program six Novembers from now, perhaps until their fifth-grader signs a national letter of intent with some program eight Novembers from now. So they have quite the challenge in front of them, one that'll feature them trying to keep their children humble and also safe from the many traps that go along with growing up in the historically tough South Memphis. That's why Keelon and Dedra Lawson -- who are more than just former players; they're also married college graduates living in a part of Memphis where such is rare -- spend just about as much time talking about life after basketball as they do actual basketball, and it's why they made Dedric run for class president last year, because they wanted him to experience life outside of the sport.
"Dedric had to get in front of the student body and give a speech, and that was something new to him," Dedra said. "He lost by a few votes. But we just wanted him to get out of his comfort zone, and that's what we're trying to do with all of our boys. There has to be some balance. We want to keep them grounded. So that's what we're going to try to do."
Meantime, everything around them will surely intensify.
Coaches will call.
Scholarship offers will pile up.
First for K.J.
Then for Dedric.
And, don't forget, Chandler just might end up being the best of the bunch.
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