Confident, more mature K.J. Lawson ready to find role with Kansas basketball through whatever means necessary
On a roster loaded with depth, talent and even a little experience, it remains to be seen exactly how Kansas redshirt sophomore K.J. Lawson fits in during his first season as an eligible Jayhawk.
But if the 6-foot-8, 205-pound Memphis transfer’s focus this summer is any indication of how he will perform this winter, Lawson appears to be well on his way to finding a key role within the Bill Self brand of basketball.
During a recent interview with the Journal-World at Washburn basketball camp in Topeka, the older Lawson brother — who is younger eligibility-wise because of a medical redshirt and his brother Dedric, a redshirt junior, reclassifying and leaving high school a year early — discussed the areas of his game he had been working on most this offseason. Not once did his minutes or points come up.
This from a guy who showed a smooth shooting stroke during one of the two open Bill Self Basketball camp scrimmage games last month.
“I can go out there and shoot, I can go out there and score,” K.J. said. “I don’t feel like anybody else is better than me, and I’m going to go out there and compete and try to get the best of everybody because you have to bring it every time. But I don’t look into how many points I’m going to score. I go out there and try to have fun and make sure that we’re building chemistry as a team. Scoring 30 in a scrimmage right now ain’t going to mean nothing in January.”
That message is perfectly in line with what Dedric said his brother had been focusing on throughout his redshirt season and the early portion of the offseason leading up to their return to the court. It’s his “intangibles” that Dedric said K.J. was fine-tuning and K.J. confirmed as much during his recent interview, calling himself and his game “more mature” since his arrival at KU.
“I’ve just become more of a student of the game and have started paying attention to the little details,” K.J. said. “I’m obsessed with the game and I’m obsessed with working hard. Nothing trumps hard work. I just like playing the right way and I like getting everybody else involved. I’m not a selfish player.”
Adopting that type of mindset could serve Self’s entire roster well during the 2018-19 season, given the amount of talent, athleticism and skill he has at his disposal. As has been the case throughout Self’s coaching career, the players who sacrifice themselves for the good of the team and show a willingness to do whatever is needed whenever it is asked could find themselves with a leg up in the competitive battle for playing time.
K.J. is well aware of that, but the potential for extra minutes is not what’s driving him to focus on being a good teammate and work on the aspects of the game that rarely bring the big spotlight.
Sound defense, being in the right spots, consistency on both ends of the floor and, of course, maximum effort at all times, have provided the soundtrack for K.J.’s summer. And in some ways that has come in stark contrast to what his brother has gone through this summer, with Dedric drawing a lot of national attention and people everywhere talking about his potential to deliver big numbers and be the type of player Kansas runs its offense through next season.
K.J. is both used to and OK with his brother getting more attention. The way he sees it, that just makes both of them more dangerous because their chemistry and willingness to play team basketball can be difficult for opponents to defend.
“I don’t look at it like that,” K.J. said of often being talked about as the other Lawson brother. “I don’t worry about his shadow because I’m in my own lane. I drive my own car. What’s destined for him is destined for him and I’ll be happy for him. I’m just trying to make sure I stay consistent and continue to work hard on my game.”
His transfer season of 2017-18 allowed him to really hunker down on that thought, and K.J. said he and his brother tried to use last season to their advantage in every way possible so they could hit the ground running when the 2018 offseason arrived.
“It ain’t no worries now," K.J. said. "You just play basketball. A lot of people worry about playing, but when you’ve been there a year, you’re supposed to have been a student of the game and know what’s supposed to happen and be paying attention to the guys who came before you.”