LAWRENCE — Arguably the most anticipated new piece on a Kansas basketball team chock-full of them, Dedric Lawson has heard the question quite often by this point.
Who does the 6-foot-9, 230-pound bruising forward believe his game most resembles?
When one media member suggested a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer as a potential fit for that distinction following Lawson’s strong showing at an intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday at Horejsi Family Athletics Center, the 20-year-old junior smiled and admitted he may not be the most qualified to make that comparison.
“To be honest, I haven’t even seen Karl Malone play,” said Lawson of the former Utah Jazz great, who retired in 2005. ”... I play with him on ‘NBA Jam.’ Other than that, I’ve got to go research Karl Malone and see how good he played.”
Video game scouting aside, it’s obviously premature to compare Lawson to the 6-9 two-time NBA Most Valuable Player. It is, though, a valuable window into the hype surrounding the former Memphis transfer following his mandatory sit-out season.
Lawson averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 across his two seasons with Memphis, including 19.2 points and 9.9 boards per contest as a sophomore in the 2016-17 campaign. He drew rave reviews from Jayhawk coaches as a member of the team’s deep scout team last season, where he says he made invaluable strides toward becoming a more complete player.
That doesn’t mean that bench-only role was easy to digest.
“That was difficult,” Lawson said. “You know, we went on a big run at certain parts of the season where I felt like I could’ve helped with what we struggled with at in the four spot.”
Lawson credits KU coach Bill Self for involving the ineligible players — Lawson, his brother K.J. and former Cal transfer Charlie Moore — as much as possible, encouraging the trio to accompany the team for every road trip the group received permission to attend.
“Man, coach Self helped me with a lot of things,” Lawson said. “From just the scout team standpoint, he helped me focus on the little things. Certain days I’d just come to practice and I ain’t want to practice just because I felt like some days I didn’t have anything to practice for, but Coach would tell me, ‘Come on Smooth, come on Dedric, stick with it, work on your game’ — things like that.”
Lawson said he also made strides in mental toughness and point-blank scoring, crediting the size and defensive efforts of center Udoka Azubuike and forward Silvio De Sousa for the latter. While Lawson did score around the basket in his 20-point performance at Tuesday’s scrimmage, he also hit a pair of 3-pointers and drained several midrange jumpers.
Versatility, Lawson said, is the one trait KU fans may be surprised to see him show next season.
“I don’t think they’ve seen a four that can dribble and make plays in a while,” Lawson said. “I’m kind of like Danny Manning — he was that great player here at KU. Wayne Simien was also that same type of player, (and) Perry Ellis — those guys.”
Outside of those KU greats, Lawson also sees shades of himself in San Antonio Spurs superstar LaMarcus Aldridge, another versatile power forward. “The way he scores all over the floor, mid-post, he’s got a nice little outside shot, he can post up — I admire his game a lot,” Lawson said of Aldridge.
With Azubuike, De Sousa, incoming freshman David McCormack and junior forward Mitch Lightfoot among the stable of bigs set for next year’s new-look Jayhawk squad, Lawson left little doubt when asked if this KU team has the potential to feature the nation’s best in the frontcourt.
“Oh yeah, hands down,” Lawson said. “We’ve got Dave (McCormack), and we’ve got Doke (Azubuike) — we didn’t even have Doke out there today, our big man inside, and we lookin’ pretty good at the four and five spots. Doke’s gonna take us way over the edge, way over the edge.”
LIGHTFOOT SHINES AT SCRIMMAGE — Lightfoot drilled six 3s as his Red team defeated the Dedric Lawson-led Blue squad, 81-74, in the scrimmage held in front of a few hundred campers as part of the annual Bill Self Basketball Camps.
The bulkier Lightfoot hit a 3 on the first possession and didn’t slow down, scoring a game-high 22 points. He capped the first-to-80 contest with a trailing dunk on a driving dish from Moore.
McCormack also dazzled from the outset, scoring 18 points while feasting in the paint. His early block on De Sousa (17 points) was one of the highlights of the trey-packed contest.
Azubuike (illness) was in attendance but didn’t play in the scrimmage. Former KU guard Travis Releford was the only ex-Jayhawk to participate, scoring 10 points for the Red squad.
RED 81, BLUE 74
Red — Cunliffe 11, K.J. Lawson 9, Moore 12, Lightfoot 22, De Sousa 17, Releford 10.
Blue — Garrett 8, Agbaji 10, Elliot 12, Teahan 6, McCormack 18, D. Lawson 20.
3-point goals — Red 15 (Lightfoot 6, Moore 3, K.J. Lawson 3, Releford 2, Cunliffe), Blue 10 (Elliot 4, Teahan 2, Agbaji 2, D. Lawson 2).