New attitude helps Lawson grow into hoop star for Wolverines

DOVER — J.W. Lawson has usually learned his lessons the hard way.

His best friend was shot and killed in Wilmington two years ago.

On the basketball court, Lawson bounced around between two high schools and a prep school.

Then, after spending a year at Delaware State, Lawson thought he’d finally found a home at Wesley College.

But, in the middle of the season, first-year Wolverine coach Dean Burrows told Lawson he wouldn’t be back if his attitude didn’t change.

Wesley’s J.W. Lawson, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, is averaging a team-leading 16.8 points per game going into tonight’s Capital Athletic Conference showdown with Christopher Newport. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The fact that Lawson is still playing basketball at Wesley shows that he’s done some growing up.

“Basketball matured me a lot,” said Lawson, who will turn 22 in a couple weeks. “It shows you that something you love can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye. And I’ve been through a lot of obstacles where that could have happened.

“I’ve just got to cherish every day — cherish every day with my teammates, my coaches and see where the cards fall.”

There’s never been any question that Lawson could play the game.

The 6-foot-1 junior guard is averaging a team-leading 16.8 points per game going into tonight’s Capital Athletic Conference showdown with Christopher Newport. The Wolverines (3-1 CAC, 5-6 overall) host the sixth-ranked Captains (3-1, 9-2) at 6 p.m.

Lawson is coming off a career-high 35-point game in Wesley’s 100-91 victory over Oregon’s George Fox on Dec. 21. A year ago, the Concord High grad netted 33 points as the Wolverines opened the season by knocking off No. 2 Virginia Wesleyan.

But it was about this time last year that Burrows suspended Lawson, telling him he would have to “audition” for a spot on this year’s roster.
Burrows said Lawson always seemed to be getting into arguments with the referees.

“I told him, ‘If you want to officiate, just stop playing now and you can learn how to do that,’” said Burrows. “It’s just not how we want to be represented. … I think it was more or less being frustrated with not getting his way, if you will.”

A year later, though, Burrows said Lawson’s attitude has really changed.

“What I’ve been most impressed with is the leadership role that he’s taken on right now and his demeanor on the floor,” said Burrows. “He’s a work in progress, just like we all are. That’s something that he and I continue to talk about.

“But, as a staff, we brag about him to anyone that’s willing to listen because they know what he’s gone through on the floor last year. He’s really grown up.”

Unfortunately for Lawson, however, the toughest thing in his life was losing his best friend.

Quiaire Nesmith was gunned down in Wilmington in June, 2015. He was only 20.

Lawson’s family had taken in Nesmith when he was 14. He and J.W. became like brothers.

Lawson now has ‘Q’ tattooed on his right forearm in Nesmith’s memory.

“I just keep playing hard for him, knowing that he’d be happy seeing me do well,” said Lawson. “He really is my main motivation right now, through college.”

Burrows said Lawson has always played with a lot of energy and emotion. Now if he can harness that energy to play under control, Burrows said the youngster is capable of accomplishing some great things.

In his 35-point effort against George Fox, Lawson was 14-of-18 from the floor, 2-of-2 from three-point range and 5-of-5 from the foul line. He also had four steals and four assists against only one turnover.

“If you go back and watch the game, nothing was forced,” said Burrows. “You can’t say anything bad about the kid. He comes in and works his tail off.

“We sat in here today and talked and I told him I’m proud of him. We try to tell him that as much as we can.”

“I’ll do anything he needs me to do,” said Lawson. “You just have a love for the game and you just want to continue to play. Wesley gave me the opportunity to play.

“I’m proud, honestly, just to continue playing basketball and keep making my family proud of me. My mom and dad don’t miss a home game.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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