When Memphis coach Josh Pastner announced the hiring of a new assistant on Wednesday afternoon, he explained his choice by praising Keelon Lawson as a "great fit" for the job.
Of course, absent from the press release was why Lawson is such a "great fit."
Yes, Lawson is a former player at UAB and LeMoyne-Owen. Yes, he coached Hamilton High to a trio of Tennessee state playoff appearances in the past decade and to the 2006 state title. But the biggest reason Lawson is an appealing candidate for Memphis is because he is the father of four promising basketball prospects.
K.J. Lawson, a 6-foot-6 wing who has already committed to Memphis, is RIvals.com's No. 57 prospect in the class of 2015. Dedric Lawson, an uncommitted 6-foot-8 forward, is Rivals.com's No. 8 prospect in the class of 2016. And Chandler Lawson (Class of 2019) and Jonathan Lawson (2021) are both considered exceptional prospects for their age groups.
In an interview with CBSSports.com in May, Keelon Lawson acknowledged that his plan was to have his sons play for whichever high-major program offered him an assistant coaching position.
"If [a college] hires a second or third assistant, what can they bring to the table?" Lawson told the site. "If you hire me, I'm automatically bringing you top-20 players in the country. Automatically. There are coaches sitting on benches right now who can't do that."
What Memphis is doing is perfectly legal under NCAA rules that allow a program to hire a coach or relative of an incoming recruit as an assistant coach. The NCAA cracked down on package deals by prohibiting the hire of a recruit's coach or relative as a support staffer or director of basketball operations, but rules makers did not include assistant coaching positions.
Pastner is willing to use one of his three assistant coaching positions on Lawson — and maybe rightfully so. First of all, keeping elite Memphis-area talent at home is crucial to the Tigers' chances of contending nationally. Secondly, if Pastner didn't make Keelon Lawson an offer, another high-major program with designs of landing his sons surely would have.
This certainly isn't the first example of a coach hiring an assistant associated with a prospect to increase his chances of landing that recruit.
Larry Brown once famously hired Danny Manning's father at Kansas. John Calipari did the same for Dajuan Wagner's dad at Memphis. More recently, Tim Floyd hired Daniel Hackett's dad at USC and Billy Kennedy hired J'Mychal Reese's father at Texas A&M.
Some of those hires proved worthwhile. Some did not. But with two sons who will soon be high-level college basketball players and two more with that potential, Keelon Lawson is probably worth the risk and the publicity hit that Memphis and Pastner are taking.
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