The human eraser

Senior+forward+Jacob+Lawson+blocks+a+shot+during+a+game+against+UL+Monroe+last+season.+Lawson+is+tied+for+the+Sun+Belt+lead+with+39+blocks.+Photo+courtesy+of+Bill+Sheffield%2FApp+State+Athletics.

Senior forward Jacob Lawson blocks a shot during a game against UL Monroe last season. Lawson is tied for the Sun Belt lead with 39 blocks. Photo courtesy of Bill Sheffield/App State Athletics.

Ben Cogsdale

Stepping onto the court at the empty Holmes Convocation Center, the voices of the App State men’s basketball team coaches can be heard over the pounding of the basketball and squeaking of sneakers.

Senior forward Jacob Lawson rumbles down the court before assuming defensive position in the post. The ball is swung around the perimeter before an attempt at an entry pass into the post is made. Lawson reaches around and pokes the ball away, deflecting the errant pass into the hands of a teammate. As the ensuing fast break commences, Lawson sprints down the court to get back into the play.

“That a boy, Lawson,” an assistant coach yelled from the opposite sideline. “Thataway to run the floor, big man.”

After practice Lawson sat down for an interview.

“I’m tired,” Lawson said.

The 6-foot-8-inch, 237 pound forward had a right to be tired. Lawson, who is tied for the most shots blocked in the Sun Belt conference, didn’t take the straightest path to where he finds himself today. After sitting out the entire 2013-14 season due to transfer rules, a result of his departure from Purdue University, Lawson described the 2014-15 season as himself getting back into the swing of things.

This season the power forward has doubled his production in nearly every category. Although his per game averages of 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds are not mind-boggling numbers, Lawson has never cared as much about how many points a night he scores.

The Reidsville, North Carolina, native has earned his lunch money in a different way: by providing timely energy with emphatic rejections.

“Thats what I’ve been doing ever since middle school on up,” Lawson said. “I’ve always loved to block shots. I feel like it gets the crowd into to it and the players into it.”

Three quarters of the way through the season, Lawson has already eclipsed his block totals from the previous season with 39 blocked shots compared to 28 last season.

Though all defensive possessions do not end in blocked shots, Lawson’s mere presence in the paint is enough to alter opposing players shot process.

“When they see me they’re like ‘Should I throw it as high as I can?’” Lawson said. “Making them change up their shots in so many ways is helping my team.”

Lawson’s athleticism and shot blocking ability was a huge draw for recruiters out of high school. According to App State Athletics, the dynamic big man led Northern Guilford to a North Carolina 3A state title in 2009 before helping lead Oak Ridge Military Academy to a 33-6 record. While attending Oak Ridge, Lawson posted an average of 14.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game as a junior. His game changing, two-way ability drew scholarship offers from Georgetown, Ole Miss, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, but Lawson ultimately opted to sign with Purdue.

In the 3-point basketball culture of today’s game, the prospect of an explosive big man who defends and plays with his back to the basket is an exciting one. However, to borrow the Spiderman cliche, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Lawson’s greatest strength coming out of high school was his athletic prowess, his high motor and an innate swagger about his game. Those qualities waned during his time in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Lawson never found his stride with the Boilermakers, averaging 2.3 points, 2.05 rebounds and only 11 minutes of action per game over his two seasons. The most telling stat, however, is the .65 blocks per game Lawson averaged during his time at Purdue. The man known above all else as a defensive enforcer was averaging less than a block a game. It was time for a change.

“I transferred to get closer to home,” Lawson said.

The 2 hour and 18 minute drive to Boone from Lawson’s home in Reidsville, coupled with Lawson’s reunion with App State players and former high school teammates, Mike Neal, Jay Canty and Michael Obacha, made this a homecoming for the former Boilermaker.

After his transfer season, Lawson stepped right back into his role as shot blocking extraordinary. During the 2014-15 season Lawson led the Mountaineers in blocked shots with 28 and his minute production increased to 13.1 minutes a game. Lawson is up to 15 minutes per game this season, and head coach Jim Fox has seen the value in the team’s shot blocker.

“Having somebody who has the knack or instinct to block shots is something that helps our defense tremendously,” Fox said. “When Jacob puts his mind to it and commits to giving us that energy he is a heck of a player.”

Similarly, other players have seen his increased production and ability as a real asset to the Mountaineer’s success this season.

“His shot blocking and rim protection gives teams something to worry about,” sophomore forward Griffin Kinney said. “When Jacob plays well the team thrives off of it. When Jacob can produce stats all around like point, rebounds and blocks, it really gets the team going and it also gets the crowd going.”

The Mountaineers are 4-2 when Lawson blocks over three shots a game, and with their No. 44 ranked defense in 3-point field goal percentage in the country, it is imperative that when the opposing teams three ball fails, Lawson is waiting in the middle.

Lawson’s emergence as a shot blocking force has been a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing season for the Mountaineers. There are many factors determining whether the Mountaineers can turn their season around, and whether it will happen is yet to be known. However, there are factors to the App’s season that are set in stone. If an opposing player drives down the lane looking to finish, waiting for them is the long outstretched arm of the Sun Belt’s co-leading shot blocking menace ready to throw that ball into the rafters.

Story by: Ben Cogsdale, Sports Reporter