Memphis’ Tubby Smith reassigns assistant which could interest NCAA

Memphis assistant Keelon Lawson and his son, Dedric, on the Tigers bench last season. (USATSI)
Memphis assistant Keelon Lawson and his son, Dedric, on the Tigers bench last season. (USATSI)

Keelon Lawson has accepted a support role on Tubby Smith’s staff and effectively ended, at least temporarily, what had been an interesting dilemma for the new Memphis coach.

Lawson confirmed the decision to CBS Sports on Monday.

Smith told The Commercial Appeal earlier in the day that his actual assistants will be Pooh Williamson, Joe Esposito and Saul Smith — all three of whom were with Smith at Texas Tech. Lawson’s title will likely be Director of Player Development, a source told CBS Sports.

This is newsworthy because Keelon Lawson is the father of Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson, i.e., the Tigers’ top two returning scorers. And sources told CBS Sports last week that Keelon Lawson was considering removing both sons from Memphis if he and Smith couldn’t agree on a role similar to the role he held under Josh Pastner, who hired Keelon Lawson as his third assistant two summers ago specifically to land the pair of top-55 national recruits.

Ultimately, Lawson buckled.

He’s now accepted a lesser role.

But here’s why this remains interesting: a school is prohibited from hiring a person connected to a prospect into a support role within two years of the prospect enrolling, according to NCAA rules. Dedric and K.J. enrolled last summer. So Memphis moving Keelon into a support role now — after Pastner left for Georgia Tech — is against NCAA rules.

A source told CBS Sports that Memphis’ plan is to apply for a waiver, and a different source told CBS Sports that Memphis is optimistic the waiver will be granted. However, an administrator who isn’t connected to Memphis, but is familiar with the rule, told CBS Sports he doesn’t understand why the NCAA would grant a waiver in this specific situation.

“They’re hiring a person connected to their two best players — one of whom could enter the NBA Draft — into a support role to keep those players in school,” the source said. “That’s exactly what the rule was designed to prevent. So why should they get a waiver for this?”

Keelon Lawson was asked if he knows what happens if the waiver is denied.

“No,” he told CBS Sports.

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