Tuesday, April 11, 2017
I was walking along whatever the name of that street is in the French Quarter of New Orleans where inexperienced drinkers on vacation drink hurricanes as if they’re strawberry lemonades and then leave proof of their foolishness in unsightly globs that leave the rest on alert with every step.
I looked in a window to a small establishment, where an old friend I hadn’t seen in years sat alone at the bar, where if memory serves he had just finished a meal. I joined him and after a few minutes his phone rang.
The caller ID said Rick Majerus and I told my old friend, Gene Wojciechowski of the Los Angeles Times, to include me in any plans. Before Wojciechowski answered, I told him to tell Majerus he had not eaten and would love to join him and bring a former Marquette student of his with him.
And on that night during the 2012 Final Four weekend, I was able to spend three hours with Majerus, which was more time than I had spent with him combined in 33 years to that point since taking his “Theory of Coaching” class. Majerus died eight months later.
I reminded Majerus of what he once told me off the record and told him I had never shared that with anybody. He couldn’t believe he told me that and said, “I must have trusted you because I didn’t share that with many people at all.” I came to know him while covering the Marquette team for which he was an assistant coach in 1980-81 and through his compelling class.
I reminded Majerus in New Orleans of two of the lessons learned in his class. The first: “During timeouts,” Majerus said from the front of the classroom in 1981, “don’t say, ‘Listen up!’ Tell them, ‘Give me your eyes!’ If you have their eyes, you have their attention.”
He emphatically pointed two fingers toward his own eyes when he said, “Give me your eyes!”
It was a good tip.
Majerus also said, “I love transfers because once they transfer, you’ve got them. They don’t have anywhere to go. They have to do it your way. They’re out of options.”
The rules have changed a little since then, but his point remains relevant. You can blame your first chosen coach for things not working out. You make a habit of that and you’re branded in a way that will be detrimental to your basketball career.
Taking advantage of today’s graduate-transfer rule, some players compete for three different schools before exhausting their eligibility.
Others might choose to practice a year at a school and then bolt for the draft. But for the most part, the reason Majerus liked the idea of taking transfers applies today.
Kansas rocked the college basketball recruiting world Monday with news that 6-foot-9, 236-pound Dedric Lawson (19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 steals) and his 6-7 brother K.J. Lawson (12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists) who played for a Memphis squad that lost six of seven games at season’s end, will transfer to Kansas and be eligible for the 2018-19 season.
K.J. is a year older, but both have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Their father, Keelon Lawson, went to Memphis as part of the package as an assistant coach to Josh Pastner and was demoted to a non-recruiting role by Tubby Smith, who took the job after Pastner bolted for Georgia Tech.
Don’t look for dad to join Bill Self’s coaching staff, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try to be heard. He has two more talented basketball sons, which makes either him or Lavar Ball the Rick Barry of his generation, although to be fair, Barry’s basketball sons span the generations and Canyon Barry was mighty impressive in the NCAA tournament for Florida.
Anyone who thinks Self will change the way he coaches the Lawson brothers with an eye to pleasing Keelon Lawson so that he steers his two other sons to become Jayhawks isn’t very familiar with Self’s style.
If Keelon Lawson trusts Self enough to handle the basketball portion of his sons’ lives, there’s a good chance they’ll improve enough that Keelon will want to send his next two sons to Lawrence.
If he meddles nonstop, well, who knows? The upside benefit outweighs the downside risk, which is minimal. What’s the worst that can happen? They practice one year, play one and one leaves for the NBA, the other for a third school? That’s not so bad. They won’t blow up team chemistry because Self won’t allow that to happen.