‘Kansas dad’ Keelon Lawson holds ‘little reunion’ at Late Night in Phog

By Gary Bedore gbedore@kcstar.com

On the court, Dedric and K.J. Lawson combined for 19 points and 10 rebounds in Friday night’s 15-minute Late Night in the Phog basketball scrimmage at Allen Fieldhouse. In the packed stands, Chandler and Johnathan Lawson — brothers of Kansas’ Lawson siblings — soaked in the atmosphere while in town as Jayhawks basketball recruits.

“It’s like a little reunion to come and see the boys kick off their season,” said Keelon Lawson, proud papa of all the Lawsons on hand for the 34th-annual Late Night. “I’m just back to see them being happy, being able to get a chance to play this year.”

Dedric and K.J. Lawson could practice last season but not play in games after transferring from the University of Memphis.

“Last year it was different,” the elder Lawson said. “When they were here, they knew they couldn’t play, but now I’m seeing them excited to kick it off and get started.”

Keelon Lawson — who on Friday wore a “Kansas dad” pullover sweat shirt to Late Night — is a veteran high school and former college coach who will be coaching 6-foot-6 sophomore wing Johnathan Lawson at Memphis’ Wooddale High this season. Chandler is a 6-8 forward spending his senior year at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.

Like his sons, the elder Lawson had a good time at Late Night. One highlight was the performance of rapper 2 Chainz, the night’s musical guest.

“I’ve got five boys,” Lawson said. “I’ve got to know the latest music just like them. I coach high school. I’ve got kids in college. I’ve got to be able to relate to these players. Sometimes the common denominator may be music.”

Keelon Lawson is in his first year at Wooddale High after working three seasons for two different coaches — Josh Pastner and Tubby Smith — at the University of Memphis. He was head coach at Memphis’ Hamilton High from 2003-14, head girls basketball coach at Hamilton High from 2001-03 and was assistant women’s hoop coach at LeMoyne-Owen from 1996-98.

Obviously, he knows his basketball — he also coaches AAU ball — and likes what he saw from his sons in the scrimmage on Friday.

“K.J. can do a lot of things. People underestimate him. I think you’ll see a lot from him this season,” Keelon said. K.J., a 6-8, 210-pound sophomore guard scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds in the scrimmage. He hit 4 of 6 shots and was 3 of 4 from three-point range.

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Dedric Lawson, a 6-9 235-pound junior, scored eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, grabbed six boards and had three assists.

“Dedric is going to be fine,” Keelon said. “When it comes time — lights, action, popcorn — he’ll show up and do what he’s supposed to do.

K.J. averaged 12.4 points and 8.3 rebounds in 2016-17 while Dedric went for 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per contest his final year at Memphis. Dedric has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Big 12 preseason player of the year.

“We don’t do that. You’ve got to understand, you can’t believe the hype all the time. You’ve still got to go out and prove it on the floor,” Keelon Lawson said. “He knows he has a target on him. He’s going to come ready to play but with a chip on his shoulder.”

Chances are Keelon won’t be able to travel to Lawrence for many games during the 2018-19 campaign.

“I’m coaching high school, so a lot of games, we’ll be playing,” Keelon said. “I’ll be able to watch a lot of them. It’s a good thing they are on TV 39 times.”

He’ll also be advising Chandler Lawson during the recruiting process. Johnathan is just a sophomore, so things aren’t heating up as much for him, yet.

“I know he likes Kansas, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Oregon. We’re going to take visits and from there make a decision,” Keelon said of Chandler Lawson, who is ranked No. 87 in the recruiting Class of 2019 by Rivals.com after playing for state title teams the past three seasons at Memphis East.

North Carolina State recently offered Chandler a scholarship. Illinois also has reached out. Memphis always remains a possibility.

“I’ve got pride in my defense. Don’t let anybody score on me,” Chandler Lawson told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “Penny (Hardaway, first-year Memphis coach who coached Lawson at Memphis East) taught defense really well and I bought in and brought it to my game.”

Late Night recruiting updates

Cassius Stanley, a 6-5 senior wing from Sierra Canyon High in North Hollywood, Calif. who is ranked No. 31 in the Class of 2019 by Rivals.com, returned home on Sunday after his weekend official visit to KU.

“It’s Been Real KU!” he wrote on Twitter. He has a final three of KU, Oregon and UCLA.

No. 109-rated Isaac McBride, a 6-0 senior point guard from Arkansas Baptist High in Little Rock, Ark., told Jayhawkslant.com he had a great visit, feeling “right at home” at KU. He’s also visited TCU and Auburn but according to Rivals.com has been focusing on just KU, Auburn and Virginia. He also has been pursued by Arkansas, Oklahoma State, SMU, Georgia Tech, Loyola, Mississippi, Wichita State, Murray State, Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, Arkansas-Little Rock and others.

Bryce Thompson, a 6-4 junior combo guard from Booker T. Washington High in Tulsa, Okla., whose dad, Rod, played for KU’s Bill Self at Tulsa, wrote, “Great visit at Kansas!!” on Twitter. He is ranked No. 66 in the Class of 2020 by Rivals.com.

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