Memphis’ slim hopes of a quick return to national relevance under Tubby Smith abruptly vanished Wednesday afternoon.
Brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, maybe the Tigers’ two best players last season, announced they’re seeking their release from the university.
“We are born and raised in Memphis, love the city with all of our hearts; however we must do what is best for our future, our dreams and our family,” the Lawson brothers said in a joint statement. “While we have enjoyed our tenure here, the time has come for us to explore some new opportunities.”
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.
That Dedric would delay his NBA aspirations two full years and K.J. would transfer despite already burning his redshirt year is a big surprise and speaks to how eager they were to leave Memphis. It’s also an indictment of Smith’s ability to build a strong relationship with the Lawson family.
Dedric and K.J. signed with Memphis two years ago in part because former 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, albeit with a $20,000 raise.
In reality, keeping the Lawson family happy should have been Smith’s top priority. Not only were Dedric and K.J. two of the pillars of this past season’s mediocre 19-13 Memphis team, younger brother Chandler is Rivals.com’s No. 33 prospect in the 2019 class.
Without Dedric and K.J., Memphis immediate prospects look dim. The Tigers lose maybe their two best players and do not yet have a top 150 prospect in their incoming class.
Dedric and K.J., on the other hand, will quickly become maybe the two most coveted transfers on the market. Some lucky school will add an All-American candidate in Dedric and another starter in K.J., while also getting a leg up in the recruitment of Chandler.
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