Friday, January 16, 2015

Hoop City Preps: On the brothers Lawson, a Tiger target, and more

From Commercial Appeal

Let's get one thing straight. K.J. and Dedric Lawson aren't going to be the saviors of University of Memphis basketball.

One of them won't be another Keith Lee, whose arrival from West Memphis High in the early 1980s turned a mediocre squad into an NCAA Tournament team overnight. And they won't match Penny Hardaway, who took college basketball by storm in his rookie year, contending for player of the year honors.

What they will be, though, is very good. And their performance at last Saturday's Penny Hardaway Hoopfest only validated that.

The brothers didn't disappoint the packed house at Arlington as they led Hamilton, ranked No. 1 in the state, to an 87-76 victory over an Oak Hill Academy team that entered the contest ranked No. 1 nationally according to MaxPreps.

K.J. paced Hamilton with 26 points, going 14 of 19 from the free-throw line and knocking down some key ones late to help finish off Oak Hill. Dedric added 20 points and 11 rebounds.

If you're not familiar with the brothers, it's easy to get them confused. They are both long and lean, can handle and pass with aplomb and both play effectively at the rim, while at the same time being able to step outside and score. Often on Saturday one would pass to the other for a bucket or one would rebound the other's miss to score.

Most impressively, though, was the way the Lawsons went about their business in the biggest game of the year (so far). They didn't get rattled when Hamilton found itself in an early 11-2 hole. And they didn't get too high when the victory was assured.

They just played. And played well like they always do. U of M fans should be happy with that.

Trivia: Since The Commercial Appeal began awarding its Best of the Preps boys basketball player of the year award in 1971, how many players from Hamilton High have won the award? (Answer at the bottom of the column)

Prospect watch: After the Lawsons helped take down Oak Hill, another University of Memphis target put on a scintillating performance at the Hoopfest Saturday.

Nashville Christ Presbyterian Academy junior standout Braxton Blackwell was superb in his team's 85-75 double-overtime victory over Southwind. The 6-8, 215-pounder was a nightmare match-up for the Jaguars and finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

Blackwell, ranked 30th in the class of 2016 according to ESPN, has great handles for someone his size and is effective making plays. He's tough to stop when he decides to attack the rim and has a high basketball IQ.

Memphis is just one of several schools that have offered Blackwell. Others include Auburn, Cincinnati, DePaul, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Mississippi State, North Carolina State, Providence, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

One for the future: If it seems like Chase Hayden has been around forever, well, he kind of has.

The 5-11 Hayden is still only a sophomore but is already in his third season making big contributions to St. George's basketball team. And he's only getting better.

Hayden is the third-leading scorer for the Gryphons, who are 15-2 and ranked seventh in this week's Dandy Dozen. He checks in at 12.8 points per game, using his strength to get to the basket while also displaying a nice outside shot. He's been on a bit of a tear recently, scoring 25 in a win over Lausanne last week before adding 26 in a victory over St. Benedict on Tuesday.

But Hayden's best ability may be his court awareness; he doesn't get rattled no matter what the defense throws at him and he plays with a poise that's well beyond his years.

Of course, the big question with Hayden is whether he'll ever see a college basketball court. He's also a blue-chip running back who projects to be one of the state's best over the next two seasons. Florida, Georgia, Michigan State, Mississippi State and Penn State have him on their radar and he holds an offer from Tennessee, where his father Aaron was a standout running back in the mid-1990s.

McDonald's nominees: Seven players from the area have been nominated to play in the McDonald's All American game, set for April 1 at the United Center in Chicago.

The honored players are Donte Dorsey (Southwind), Marlon Hunter (Houston), Dedric Lawson (Hamilton), K.J. Lawson (Hamilton), Nych Smith (White Station) and LaGerald Vick (Douglass). Kaylan Pugh of St. Mary's was nominated to play in the girls game.

The rosters for the game will be announced during the McDonald's All American Games Selection Show, which will be broadcast Jan. 28 on ESPNU at 5 p.m.

Youth movement: One of the most recognizable names in local high school basketball is former Central coach Niki Bray, who built the Lady Warriors into a powerhouse, winning the AAA state championship in 2012 while producing some of terrific talents, including Nina Davis (Baylor), Danielle Ballard (LSU) and Aaliyah Whiteside (Georgia Tech). The last remaining links to that championship team graduated in 2014 and some observers thought The High School might suffer a big dropoff this season.

But that certainly hasn't been the case.

Heading into Friday's District 16-AAA contest at White Station, the Lady Warriors are a solid 11-7. And more impressively, they are doing it with a roster that is light on depth and experience.

First-year coach Rashad Haynes, who came over after a successful run at Snowden Junior High, has six freshmen on his eight-player roster. Junior Miyah Barnes -- who transferred from White Station prior to the season -- has been excellent, leading the team in scoring at 18.9 points per game. And the other junior, Tijuana Griggs, uses her 6-3 frame to provide an imposing presence in the paint.

But it's the team's "babies" who are causing the most excitement for Lady Warriors fans. Jasmine Carson (5-8) is averaging 15.4 points while Johne' Stewart (5-7) chips in with 10.6. And Jireh Washington (5-7) single-handedly outscored Melrose on Tuesday, pouring in 35 points in a 63-34 victory.

Haynes has his team playing an uptempo, wide-open style with lots of opportunities to shoot the 3. With more depth on the roster and a year or two of added experience, Central could be poised for a return to the top in the near future.

Keys to the city: One of the top girls players to come through Memphis will be honored Friday night as Harding Academy will retire the jersey of former star Kaylah Keys.

Keys was a three-time Division 2-A Miss Basketball finalist and a three-time Best of the Preps player of the year finalist as well. She graduated as Harding's all-time career scoring leader -- boys or girls -- and was named the Commercial Appeal's Private School athlete of the year in 2013 (she also starred in volleyball at Harding).

Now a sophomore at High Point University in North Carolina, Keys is one of the top players in the Big South Conference. She was first-team all-conference last season while being named the league's freshman of the year and is averaging 15 points for the Panthers so far this year, leading the team in minutes and 3-pointers made and attempted.

Alumni watch: Two players whose teams had some great high school battles are closing their college careers in style.

Former Melrose standout Chris Jones is one of the key components for a Louisville team that is 15-2 and ranked sixth nationally in the Associated Press poll. The 5-10 guard, who starred at Northwest Florida State Junior College before signing with the Cardinals, is third on the team in points, averaging 12.8. He leads the team with 63 assists, while ranking second in steals (37) and free-throw percentage (.747) and third in 3-pointers (23).

At Minnesota, former White Station standout Andre Hollins continues to shine, averaging 12.4 points for coach Richard Pitino, the son of Jones' coach at Louisville, Rick. The 2011 AAA Mr. Basketball also leads Minnesota in made 3s (40), attempted 3s (109) and free-throw percentage (.791) while ranking third with 44 assists.

What's in store: With just a few weeks remaining in the regular season, conference games will be take center stage in the next few days. Girls games begin at 6 p.m. and boys at 7:30, unless noted.

On Friday, Germantown, ranked ninth in the Dandy Dozen, will try to bounce back from a surprising Tuesday loss to Wooddale as it hosts Houston and the area's leading scorer, Western Kentucky signee Marlon Hunter (26.7). In 14-AAA, Arlington (led by Nathan Hoover, who began his career at Bartlett) visits Bartlett and Jonathan Bowlan, who transferred from Arlington. Undefeated and top-ranked Hamilton will visit Orange Mound to battle Melrose in a match-up of two of the area's most storied programs and longest rivals.

Farther afield, Fayette-Ware, tied for 12th in the Dandy Dozen, visits defending AA state champion Jackson South Side. The top girls game Friday will be in DeSoto County as Horn Lake (19-0, second in the Dandy Dozen) tangles with host Olive Branch (19-1, third).

The best action Saturday will be at Lausanne as the Lynx host the MLK Classic. University of Memphis fans will want to arrive by 4:30 as White Station hosts a Chattanooga Hamilton Heights team led by one of the top standouts in the class of 2016, Abdulhakim Ado. The 6-10, 230-pounder has an offer from the Tigers, among several others.

At 6, defending Class A state champ Mitchell, featuring recent Louisiana Tech commit Jeremiah Martin, faces two-time defending Mississippi 3A champion Velma Jackson, led by Mississippi State signee Quinndary Weatherspoon. At 7:30, Germantown takes on Lausanne.

Other Classic games include Briarcrest girls against Hamilton Heights at noon, Germantown girls vs. Lausanne at 1:30 and Tupelo and Briarcrest at 3.

FedExForum will host two Dandy Dozen teams Monday as No. 3 Southwind meets 11th-ranked Bolton. That one will follow the conclusion of the annual MLK Day game between the Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks.

The fifth- and ninth-ranked girls teams meet Tuesday as Overton hosts White Station; the boys game there will also be a great battle. Two ranked girls teams also meet at Northpoint as No. 10 Harding visits the sixth-ranked Trojans.

Trivia answer: Just one. Current Wildcats coach Todd Day took the honor back in 1989 before going on to star at Arkansas and a nine-year NBA career.

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