North Texas Daily

Wrist injury forcing Lawson to adjust to new role

Wrist injury forcing Lawson to adjust to new role

January 13
12:49 2018

Monday was a normal day at practice for the men’s basketball team.

Numerous drills predicated on shooting and communicating in transition defense took place while head coach Grant McCasland and associate head coach Ross Hodge pointed out every little area where the team can improve — often loudly.

But on the side opposite of where the team’s bench sits during home games, sophomore guard A.J. Lawson was running up and down the stairs of the Super Pit. When he finished there, he grabbed a basketball and dribbled around the court, using only his left hand. Afterward, he went for a drink and adjusted the brace he has had on his right hand at numerous times throughout the season.

He turned to a staff member on the team.

“You ready,” Lawson asked while finishing adjustments on his brace.

“For what,” the staff member replied.

“I’m out against Rice,” Lawson said.

Today marks the first game Lawson will miss in his North Texas career. He has averaged 26.4 minutes in 47 games over the last two seasons.

Lawson has a sprained wrist that has plagued him throughout his sophomore year. It is something more serious than many Mean Green fans realize as the team approaches the second half of the 2017-18 season.

“I was supposed to have surgery before the season, but I wanted to play with my teammates, so I didn’t have the surgery,” Lawson said. “It affects me dramatically. It hurts to shoot, [even] on free throws, honestly. I just have to toughen it out and as soon as the season is over have my surgery.”

For coach McCasland, it has been a precarious situation to deal with. Lawson, when healthy, is one of the most versatile scorers on the floor while providing length in the backcourt on defense — but his health comes first.

“First of all, we have a great medical team that we trust,” McCasland said. “I don’t have a say in any of that and I meet with [A.J.] regularly and tell him, ‘We want to make sure you’re healthy enough where you can play and play how you want to play, and if you can’t, you just have to say.’ That’s something that is monitored very closely. For him, there could be some games where he doesn’t play.”

Today’s game against Rice will be the first of those games.

In his breakout freshman season, Lawson led an 8-22 North Texas team in scoring with 11.4 points per game.

This year, Lawson is fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 9.8 points per game despite playing five more minutes per game than last season. The Mean Green are 9-8 overall and 2-2 in Conference USA play.

While the injury appears to be the protruding issue for Lawson, the change in talent around him and a new coaching staff have led to small changes in his game, which have forced changes in where he gets the ball and when he can attack.

“This year we have a different offense,” Lawson said. “When I come off ball screens, I’m not coming off looking for myself. I’m looking for a roller or a guy coming off of a flex screen.”

Lawson is shooting 6.5 percent worse on 3-pointers this season while getting clean looks at the rim in what has been a more fluid offense. He’s at his best this season when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim, where he can use his body and touch to score instead of relying on his hampered shooting wrist.

As a result, Lawson is shooting a solid 48.9 percent from inside the arc this season.

Another returning starter who has seen the change in Lawson’s game is sophomore point guard Ryan Woolridge. These two both have seen the lows of last year turn to improvement as the Mean Green have already surpassed their win total in 15 fewer games.

“[A.J. is] a slasher who can crash the boards, and he can guard a big body, so his role is pretty much the same as last year,” Woolridge said. “[He’s improved on] guarding the ball. He can stay in front of people with ease now.”

Offensively, Lawson mentioned he has a smaller workload than last year. That, along with a renewed intensity from new coaches, has created more urgency from him defensively this season as he is often the second biggest guy on the court and, as Woolridge said, is guarding bigger bodies.

Lawson has also become the team’s best charge-taker, which the coaching staff enjoys because offensive fouls essentially function as a steal.

“He’s a guy that has been a versatile mismatch guy for us in lineups,” McCasland said. “His length is tremendous and he’s a good rebounder. It [used] to be hard for him to maintain that physicality. Now, he can go long stretches and continue to rebound, and that’s benefited our team.”

While his role in the team is similar to the role held last year, offensively he now can pick and choose his spots instead of falling into a pick and roll or isolation late in the clock. While the scoring numbers have decreased, he has already matched last year’s block total in 13 less games and is averaging 1.1 more rebounds per game. The activity is still there, just in a different way.

Excluding today’s game against Rice, Lawson has played in and started every game this year, showing a resolve and versatility that has motivated his team and impressed the coaches.

Now, it’s just about getting through this season with his team and giving all he can before getting back to 100 percent in the offseason.

“My role in the offense is kind of the same as last year,” Lawson said. “It’s just a little bit smaller. We don’t depend on me to score every game. [With] that said, I’m pretty sure if I wasn’t injured I’d probably be doing more than what I am.”

Featured Image: Mean Green Basketball player A.J. Lawson (1) guards Isaiah Bailey (2) of Bethune-Cookman. The Mean Green won 90-78. Madison Gore

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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