Lawson adding to legacy
By Caulton Tudor
Raleigh News & Observer
MEMPHIS ó Entering the South Regional championship game, North Carolina’s Ty Lawson had a modest personal goal.
“When I leave,” the junior playmaker said Saturday, “I’d like to be remembered as one of the top point guards at Carolina. One of the top five, I’d say. If I’d get in that group, that would be in some great players.”
If Lawson wasn’t already there, which he was of course, there’s no debate now.
The question, after he led the Tar Heels to a 72-60 win against Oklahoma and the school’s 18th Final Four trip, is exactly how far up the point-guard pecking order does Lawson belong?
Phil Ford is generally regarded as the high alpha of that fraternity. Raymond Felton in 2005 directed his team to an NCAA title. So did Tommy Kearns in 1957 and Derrick Phelps in 1993. Jimmy Black was at the controls when the Tar Heels reached the title game in 1981 and won it in 1982.
Going back all the way to Kearns and that undefeated ’57 team, it’s difficult to find a North Carolina playmaker more instrumental to his team’s success than Lawson has been in 2008-09.
It was never more apparent than Sunday in the FedExForum, where he was voted the regional’s most outstanding player after burying the Sooners with his 19 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals against one turnover.
“He was incredible. He makes them go,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “He’s almost impossible to contain.”
Lawson had support, of course. Teammates Danny Green (18 points, nasty perimeter defense) and Wayne Ellington (nine points, three rebounds) helped North Carolina (32-4) dominate the perimeter and transition.
On a day when the Sooners imited Tyler Hansbrough to eight points and Blake Griffin piled up 23 points and 16 rebounds, Lawson drove his team toward a shot at East champion Villanova (30-7) in Saturday’s national semifinals.
From North Carolina coach Roy Williams straight down the bench, Lawson’s performance was praised ó sensational, great, spectacular and maybe the most complimentary of all, “predictable.”
“I just tried to be a leader,” Lawson said. “Everybody on this team can be a star, though. It takes all of us.”
Nothing Lawson did came as a great shock, of course.
En route to the ACC Player of the Year award, he has led the rescue squad each time the Tar Heels encountered danger. When he was sidelined by a late-season toe injury, the team struggled to escape Virginia Tech and then lost to Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
Upon his return against LSU in a second-round NCAA game, North Carolina again resumed the look of the nation’s best team.
“Ty believed, and he caught a lot of criticism when we were 0-2 in the league and he had been through a tough time against (Boston College’s) Tyrese Rice and (Wake Forest’s) Jeff Teague,” Williams said. “But Ty doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. He’s still Dennis the Menace some of the time, but he’s been just terrific.”
It was after those two early season losses that Lawson literally accelerated into the league’s best point guard.
Against Villanova, he’ll have to deal with speedsters Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher.
But how do you take anyone against Lawson at this point? There isn’t a hotter playmaker, or player, in the country. And if Lawson surprises almost everyone by returning for a fourth season, Phil Ford himself might have to surrender his territory.