Wildcats center Jason Lawson traveled to Chicago this summer to
be photographed with the other members of this year's
Playboy All-America team. Lawson and 10 other players from
across the nation stood in a chorus line clad in tuxedos as a
photographer began to shoot...and shoot...and shoot...and shoot.
Each time the frustrated photographer examined the results, he
saw 10 beatific grins and one grimace. Finally Cincinnati's
Danny Fortson turned to the guy beside him and barked, "C'mon,
Jason, just smile or we'll never get out of here."
Lawson wakes up every morning wearing his trademark scowl, and
then his intensity really kicks in. "Jason's not trying to come
off looking like a bad guy," says Wildcats freshman Tim Thomas.
"It's just that his game face is a little spookier than most."
Lawson admits that he has tried to remain "smileless," as he
puts it, during games and has done a good job of it, except for
one time last February. Toward the end of a win over Seton Hall
he won a gentleman's bet with his coach, Steve Lappas, by
launching the first and only three-pointer of his career. It
Lawson's favored lair is in the paint, especially at the
defensive end, where he needs only three blocked shots to set
the Wildcats' career record. A year ago, in addition to his 6.8
rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, the 6'11" Lawson averaged 12.3
points despite attempting only 6.4 shots per game. This season,
with All-America Kerry Kittles now in the NBA, Lawson and senior
point guard Alvin Williams, who averaged 11.0 points a game last
season, must carry more of the offensive burden. They should be
aided mightily by Thomas, the nation's top recruit, who
seriously considered jumping straight to the NBA. Thomas, a
6'10" swingman, not only can score in the post, but he also shot
46% from three-point range as a high school senior.
Thomas's days in college are probably already numbered, so
Villanova can't afford yet another collapse in the NCAA
tournament. The Wildcats were upset in the first round by Old
Dominion in '95 and in the second round by Louisville in '96,
two huge flops that haunt the current team. "You can't build a
program without negative moments," Lappas says. "Right now, I
look at those losses as stepping-stones, not as land mines."
Says Lawson, "I have this dream about the NCAA tournament
sometimes, but I always wake up before the Final Four. Maybe my
dream will last longer this season. Then you just might see me
crack a smile."
COLOR PHOTO: ALTERED POLAROIDS BY WALTER IOOSS JR. LAWSON HOPES TO FLASH ONE OF HIS RARE SMILES AT TOURNAMENT TIME [Jason Lawson]