Memphis basketball and Tubby Smith suffered a brutal blow on Wednesday when the Lawson brothers announced that they will be transferring out of the program.
“We are born and raised in Memphis and love the city with all our hearts,” Dedric and K.J. said in a statement signed by the pair. “However, we must do what is best for our future, our dreams and our family. So we plan to transfer.”
Dedric is a sophomore forward that averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists this season. He would have been a borderline preseason all-american if he was eligible to play this year. K.J., a redshirt freshman, averaged 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds.
The pair will now be the most sought-after transfers on the market this offseason. It’s worth noting here that their father, Keelon Lawson, was on staff at Memphis — he was hired by Josh Pastner in order to get the brothers to commit — and will reportedly no longer be on staff after this season. The Lawson also have two younger brothers that are five-star prospects in the Class of 2019 and 2021, respectively.
So if you’re a high-major coach with an opening on your staff, you might to give Keelon a call.
Caleb Swanigan to declare for the draft, won’t sign an agent
Bam Adebayo became the third Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA Draft this week, but unlike teammates De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, he will not be signing with an agent.
“This process we went through at Kentucky was a tough but a rewarding one,” Adebayo said. “It was everything I wanted when I decided to come to Kentucky. It taught me a lot. It taught me how to be a better man on and off the court. I have improved so much since the beginning of the season thanks to the hard work of the coaching staff. They helped me with every step of the process along the way and they never gave up on me.”
“I want to thank my teammates. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to grow with. We were all like brothers. I also want to thank the fans for their support and everything they do for us. Their passion is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
“I feel like I’m making the right step in declaring for the draft, but I want to be absolutely sure that I’m making the right decision for me and my mom. I’m looking forward to the process and I appreciate the support of the coaches, my teammates and the fans. No matter what happens, it’s been an unbelievable ride.”
He will have until May 24th to decide to remove his name from the draft.
Adebayo averaged 13.0 points and 8.0 boards as a freshman. He’s projected as a late first round pick.
“Bam was our hardest worker this season,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “You’re talking about a player who can guard all five positions, has more perimeter skills than people know, and someone with size and a physique that immediately translates to that league. Bam is a great kid with a ton of upside. Should he decide to stay in the draft, he will be an outstanding four man in the NBA. Every organization needs character and Bam is a high-character kid who only cares about winning.”
Patrick Ewing on Sports Junkies: Can’t hire son due to nepotism clause
New Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing went on the Sports Junkies on Wednesday and said that he is not allowed to hire his son to his staff because of a nepotism clause in his contract.
Which is ironic considering where he is working.
John Thompson Jr. has been running that program for 45 years. He was in charge for 27, he had his top assistant hired as his replacement in 1999 and his son took over from him in 2004. After John Thompson III was let go last month, the Hoyas hired Ewing, Big John’s most important recruit.
But yeah, allowing Ewing to bring his son on staff would be a problem.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The best story of this Final Four wasn’t North Carolina’s redemptive run to a national title or South Carolina getting to the final weekend of the college basketball season 44 years after the last time that they won a tournament game. It wasn’t Isaiah Hicks’ star turn, where he went from playing like he was shaving points to scoring the biggest basket on Monday night, or Joel Berry II’s parents embracing the tattoo they never wanted him to get in the first place.
The results didn’t matter.
The best story of the Final Four was Gonzaga, college basketball’s ultimate rags-to-riches tale.
There is never going to be another Gonzaga. It’s not possible. The blueprint that they’re built from is irreplicable. When Mark Few joined the program nearly 30 years ago as a graduate assistant, the Zags were coming off of a season where they won four games. It was the worst job in the WCC, and it wasn’t particularly close. Why would anyone choose to go to college in the eastern-most corner of Washington when they could play at, say, Loyola Marymount or Pepperdine?
“This wasn’t even possible,” Few said. When he was first hired by the school, he made $1,500. When he was first promoted to assistant coach, he lived with Dan Monson because Monson, who only made $45,000 at that time, actually owned a house. Bill Grier, the third assistant on that staff at the time, lived there and “would pay as much rent as we could afford,” Few said.
“In no way shape or form could you ever envision what we [built], from that to right now. It has changed, I don’t know, it’s 500 percent different from the school, how we travel, how we’re treated. We have a new arena. I mean, everything is. We have expectations. We’re expected to win. And we’re expected to advance. Heck, we’re expected to get to a Final Four, and if we don’t get to a Final Four it’s a disaster and we’re a failure.”
Gonzaga was then what, say, Southern Utah is now, buried in the bottom of a conference with teams at the top that have had some tournament success and have sent some players to the NBA. It’s not an enviable position to be in, and the Zags were able to dig out of it because they lucked into a head coach that is one of the best in the business that never wanted to leave.
That’s the way it works at that level. When you have some success, when you make a run in March and prove your chops as a coach, you bounce for a job in a bigger league, with better facilities, a bigger paycheck and a chance to recruit better players. Few never did that.
“Mark made Gonzaga his next job,” Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said. Marshall would know. He’s done the same at Wichita State, even going as far as to leverage opportunities to leave for a power conference gig to help get Wichita State into a position where they may end up joining the American Athletic Conference. At Gonzaga, Few’s worked with the same athletic director, Mike Roth, for all 18 years that he’s been the head man in Spokane. They’ve paid him more. They built a $25 million, 6,000-seat arena and broke ground on a state-of-the-art practice facility. They’ve given him the funding to pay for a good staff, making Gonzaga a destination job for assistants. They’ve given him the resources to afford flying private to road games and for recruiting.
“I’ve been lucky to keep Mark over these years,” Roth said. “He’s wanted to stay. We’ve been doing the right things to make sure we give him the things he needs.”
“And I’m not talking about contracts. That’s easy stuff. I’m talking about facilities, supporting the program, how we travel, how we provide him opportunities to recruit, those types of things.”
The Zags continued to build and continued to win and continued to keep Few, who has heard overtures from programs like Indiana, UCLA and Oregon, where he’s an alum that grew up 15 minutes from campus. That kind of continuity is typically reserved for the biggest and the best programs. It’s not only allowed them to build the basketball program into what it is, at worst a top 15 program in the sport, but it has helped turn Gonzaga basketball into a family that bridges generations.
On Sunday, before the Zags were to square off with North Carolina, Few paraded in some 50 former members of the team, the players that built the foundation of what this program has turned into. Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf. They received a standing ovation from the players currently on the roster, a group that is chock-full of kids that may only spend one season on Gonzaga’s campus. Most expect five-star recruit and former McDonald’s All-American Zach Collins to head to the NBA as the first one-and-done player to come through Gonzaga. He may not be the only one to declare for the draft, either, as All-American point guard Nigel Williams-Goss seems likely to at least test the waters. Jordan Mathews, who hit the game-winning shot for Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 win over West Virginia, was a grad transfer.
He left California, where he averaged 14 points for the Golden Bears his last two seasons, to play a lesser role with the Zags. Williams-Goss was a former McDonald’s All-American and first-team all-Pac 12 point guard at Washington, Gonzaga’s in-state rival, before transferring to the other side of the state. Zach Collins picked the Zags over the likes of Arizona and Oregon, happy to play his role as the first big man off the bench if it meant he got a shot to play for a national title.
“That’s what makes this culture so special those guys, those former players — the Pendos, the Turiafs, Olynyk, the Morrisons, the Dickaus, the Pangoses, and Bells — these guys know it,” Few said. “They’re still connected to these guys even though they never played together. And our culture is just so strong. And this was a culture statement and I couldn’t be prouder.”
It’s also a statement of where Few’s program is.
“I was young and naive,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, who has been at Gonzaga for 16 seasons, said of when he first got the job. “I thought why can’t we recruit NBA players. Let’s go do it. Let’s sell these guys on what we believe in. I was all in but I was 23 years old. It was my first job. I thought I could do anything. Mark was the same way. Being naive was a good thing then.”
It’s not naive anymore.
Gonzaga was one rolled ankle from Williams-Goss, one blown out-of-bounds call on North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks, from having having the ball in the final minute with a chance to take the lead in the national title game, and doing so with the only one-and-done player in a Final Four with three power conference schools, two of whom entered the season as top six teams.
“I thought over this run of 20 years we probably had three or four — probably three teams that could have made it here,” Few said. “And, you know, just from the luck of the draw or that particular night, or I think of Wichita that year, or the one year we had a great team with Pangos and Bell, but we just ran into Duke in Houston in the Elite Eight.”
“So certainly felt, my stance all along was you just gotta be good enough and then eventually it’s going to happen. We wanted to stay nationally relevant. And I think we’ve done that year after year after year. And that’s probably what I’m most proud of. And then eventually you’ll kick the door down and break through.”
“We did this year.”
For North Carolina, ‘Redemption’ has never been so sweet
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Joel Berry II’s parents didn’t like the tattoo, not at first.
On Monday night — a night they spent watching their son score 22 points and dish out six assists, a night where Berry’s steadfast belief in himself, in his teammates, paid off with a national title win over Gonzaga — they both had that same tattoo in the same spot on their arm.
The Berry family motto is ‘Believe’. Has been as long as Joel II can remember. “Believe in what you want,” Kathie, Joel’s mother, said. “Believe you can win. That’s just what we live.” It’s what Joel II has lived, too, never more so than in the 364 days since his dream was snatched from his fingers in the 4.7 seconds it took Ryan Arcidiacono to find Kris Jenkins for that game-winning, title-snatching three.
It would have been easy for Joel II to give up, to assume that his one shot at hanging a banner in the Dean Dome was gone. That’s why he got the word tattooed on the inside of his left bicep right before the start of this season.
“It’s something that I want to be able to down and see, no matter what,” Joel II said. “Look, I’m not a big fan of tattoos. If I get a tattoo, I want it to mean something to me. This right here has got me throughout this whole season. To be here right now, it’s just all because of believing in myself and believing in my teammates, believing in what the coaches want us to do.”
“That word. It just means so much.”
His parents knew that, which is why they, along with Berry’s four brothers and sisters, inked up the inside of their left bicep with an identical, removable tattoo for Monday’s game. They just had to find a way to show it to him.
Joel II can hear that whistle anywhere, man. Even in domed football stadium packed to the gills with more than 77,000 buzzed, sunburnt fans that spent a little too much time tailgating outside on a beautiful, 85 degree day in the desert, Berry can hear that whistle.
“My mom has been doing that whistle since I was five years old,” Berry said. “Sometimes that whistle is because I’m in trouble, and sometimes it’s because she’s trying to get our attention. I can hear it from anywhere.”
On Monday night, he heard it right before the start of the game. When he turned around, the entire Berry clan was flexing their arm, pointing to their left bicep.
“It almost made me cry right then.”
That wasn’t the only time that Berry cried on the University of Phoenix Stadium floor.
After he gobbled up a loose ball with 15 seconds left, after he found Justin Jackson for a dunk that put the Tar Heels ahead 70-65 with 12 seconds left, after Kennedy Meeks picked off a Gonzaga pass with nine seconds left, Berry headed to the free throw line, game in hand, redemption complete.
And emotionally, he couldn’t handle it.
“I was about to cry at the free throw line,” Berry said. “It was just a relief. I couldn’t believe it. I told the ref, ‘sir, i need a timeout,’ and I went to the sideline. ‘Look, I needed that, I’m about to lose it.’ Coach was like, ‘don’t lose it yet. Just knock these free throws in, then we can celebrate.’ And I went up there and I missed the first one.”
“I knocked in the second one and I was running down the court and I was crying.”
He wasn’t alone. Theo Pinson was crying before the final buzzer sounded. Isaiah Hicks copped to having to struggle to hold back tears. Justin Jackson didn’t bother holding them back. “Tears of joy started falling and I couldn’t control it,” he said.
This moment was cathartic for the Tar Heels. A year ago, at this same time, they were the ones left in tears following one of the most memorable plays in basketball history, a title-winning, buzzer-beating three from Kris Jenkins. After that shot went down, Williams said, “the feeling of inadequacy in the locker room last year is the worst feeling I’ve ever had.”
That is what North Carolina has been carrying with them all season long. It’s part of the reason Berry got that tattoo on his arm. It’s why the team’s group text has been named ‘Redemption’. It’s why the screen-saver on Pinson’s phone is a picture of him immediately after last year’s title game loss. It’s all hokey and cliché and narrative-driven, and it’s all too painfully accurate. Williams told his team that they had a chance to do this at the team’s first meeting back in August, that this was a group that had the pieces on their roster to avenge last year’s loss, to allow them to experience what it was like to be in a title-winning locker room.
But that didn’t always help.
“Every time I tried to think about us winning it I thought about the outcome of last year,” Nate Britt II said.
The other subplot of the Tar Heel season is the looming investigation that is being held over the head of the university. We’re approaching a two years since North Carolina first received a Notice of Allegations for violations committed in a wide-reaching academic scandal that has forever tarnished the sterling reputation of North Carolina. Not the basketball program, the school.
I understand why it would be hard for a neutral to be happy for North Carolina. Not only is there the skepticism that the NCAA would ever actually hammer one of their flagship programs, but UNC also has the money to fund an elite legal defense team that will make every effort to ensure that this is the most difficult investigation the NCAA will ever do.
I can’t blame anyone for that.
But understand, the scandal at North Carolina, the one that has muddied Williams’ name and could eventually result in a national title banner coming down, had nothing to do with any of the players on the floor tonight. They didn’t reap the benefits of any fake classes. Most of them came to North Carolina despite the fact that this investigation is ongoing.
“I wish it got no attention here, because this should be about the kids,” Williams said. “I wish it got no attention. But I know it’s out there. But the last three or four years have been very hard. I told you, people have questioned my integrity, and that means more to me than anything.”
“I know that we did nothing wrong. I know that I did nothing wrong. I’ve been investigated 77 times, it seems like. And everybody came to that conclusion. But there were some mistakes made at my university that I’m not happy about, either.”
It’s debatable — and probably inaccurate — to say that Williams did nothing wrong, but it’s 100 percent correct to say as much about the players. Their life in the public eye has been made that much more annoying by the fact that they have to answer questions about it. More importantly, they’re the ones that took last year’s loss, and the ones that will celebrate this year’s win, the hardest.
“After the Oregon game,” Berry recalled of a conversation he had with home roommate on the road, Pinson, “we had just talked about we get another shot at this, and we’re not going to let it get away from us.”
“Even if i have to steal that trophy from Gonzaga,” Pinson said back, “I’m not leaving that gym without the trophy.”
“We made that dream come true. I can forget about that shot from last year,” Berry said. “When we wake up in the morning it’s going to be us on the front of the newspaper.”
All it took was a title to get over last year’s heart break.
Things are going to be different in the Britt household from now on.
Nate II took last year’s loss particularly hard. Kris Jenkins, the man responsible for all of that heartbreak, is his brother. Jenkins lived with the Britts in the Washington D.C. area, moving in with the family in 2007 when they became his legal guardians, which seemed like a great idea until big brother hit the shot that gave him a ring and left little brother in tears. Imagine being reminded of that moment every time you walk by your brother’s room. Imagine being reminded of that moment every time he wears his national title hat or his national title t-shirt. Hell, imagine being reminded of that moment every time you see your brother.
“I’ve got balance in my house now,” Nate Sr. said.
And this time, it was Nate II that made Jenkins’ eyes water.
“I didn’t cry last year,” Jenkins said, moments after getting a bear hug from Ramses, the North Carolina mascot, while wearing a Nate Britt t-shirt jersey.