Having lost six of his top eight players to transfers and failing to land any noteworthy recruits as replacements, Memphis coach Tubby Smith was in desperate need of a PR win to assuage the concerns of Tigers fans.
Smith was gifted one on Thursday when one of those transfers said goodbye to the program in embarrassingly graceless fashion.
In a Snapchat video captured by the Twitter account @PeopleofMemphis, redshirt freshman K.J. Lawson shouted into the camera.
The video surfaced eight days after brothers K.J. and Dedric Lawson announced they intended to transfer from Memphis. That same day, K.J. quoted Drake’s “Lose You” in a since-deleted tweet that read, “I know I deserved more I just never said it two middle fingers as I make a exit, yeah … Did I lose you?”
K.J.’s immaturity makes it easier to justify Smith’s decision last spring not to be held hostage by the Lawson family.
Dedric and K.J. signed with Memphis two years ago in part because ex-Tigers coach Josh Pastner agreed to hire their father as an assistant coach. When Smith replaced Pastner last spring, he marginalized Keelon Lawson by demoting him to director of player development, setting in motion the chain of events that led to their departure this spring.
You can see why Smith would be cautious about giving too much power to a father who exploited the talents of his sons to land a job. You can also see why Smith might not be heartbroken over not having to deal with K.J.’s thoughtless behavior the next couple years.
At the same time, let’s not give Smith more credit than he deserves for making a principled stand. By alienating the Lawsons, he lost his best — and so far only — recruiting pipeline to high-level Memphis talent.
An athletic 6-foot-9 forward capable of making an impact both inside and outside the paint, Dedric averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a sophomore. K.J., a 6-7 swingman, also started for Memphis as a redshirt freshman and averaged 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds.
There are also two talented younger Lawson brothers still in high school in the Memphis area. Chandler and Johnathan Lawson are both consensus five-star prospects in the Class of 2019 and 2021, respectively.
Dismissing the Lawsons as a needless headache would be an easier case for Smith to make if he and his staff had already secured some other elite recruits. But Smith has not landed a single top 100 prospect so far and is currently mining the junior college ranks in hopes of finding replacements for the transfers he has lost.
There were numerous other programs willing to cope with the Lawsons because of their immense talent. Kansas landed Dedric and K.J. earlier this week after a brief recruiting battle with Duke, Ole Miss and Iowa State, among others.
Will Bill Self have any misgivings bringing aboard K.J. after he was so disrespectful to a coaching colleague? It’s doubtful, even though Kansas shouldn’t feel beholden to the Lawsons the way Memphis did.
Smith bungled the relationship with the Lawsons even though his program hasn’t made the NCAA tournament in three years and desperately needs players of their caliber. Self, on the other hand, isn’t lacking for talent. He can afford to be more judicious if he chooses.
Source: Jeff Eisenberg