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 missed. Badly.
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."