IN BASKETBALL TERMS, THERE'S QUICKNESS, AND then there's the kind of quickness that Ty Lawson has: uncheckable, end-to-end, ankle-breaking, Carolina Blue—blur, by-you quickness. It is a weapon that Lawson unleashes possession after possession as point guard for the Tar Heels. ¶ Some may call it speed. Others may call it quicks or legs or wheels. The semantics don't matter. What matters is that by the time you've read this sentence, Lawson has just flown the length of the court. Maybe twice.
His quickness is so legendary, in fact, that curious Clemson coaches once put a stopwatch on Lawson to learn how fast he brings the ball upcourt. The time was two seconds and change. In other words Lawson can catch an inbounds pass and dribble the ball into the frontcourt in the time it took Christian Laettner to make a catch and shoot a turnaround jumper that you may have seen once or twice on TV.
Here's what opponents say about the Tar Heels' pace-pushing spark plug.
Kansas coach Bill Self: "He's the fastest guy I've seen as far as going from defense to offense."
Georgia coach Mark Fox: "He has unbelievable speed."
Georgetown guard Jessie Sapp: "There's nobody in the nation as quick as Ty."
So just where did this singular speed come from? And how did this 5' 11", 195-pound menace become a relentless attack man and the ACC Player of the Year for a national championship team? Credit, among other things, a demanding father, a bit of adversity and a little bit of Rambo.
BEFORE HE HELPED NORTH CAROLINA CUT DOWN THE NETS IN Detroit, before he tore up the ACC with his dynamic playmaking, before he was a mischievous prankster who often poured water on the empty seat next to him on the bench so that he could get a kick out of the resulting wet spot on his teammate's shorts, Tywon Ronell Lawson was an energetic tyke growing up as an only child in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Clinton, Md. His father, George, was a tech sergeant at Andrews Air Force Base, and when Ty was about five, his dad started drilling him regularly in basketball. "I would stand at the foul line, and Ty was at the baseline," George recalls. "He would have to dribble at me at full speed. I would holler commands like 'Crossover' or 'Behind the back,' and he would have to execute those at full speed before he got to me. It started off at one command, and then it got to two and then we would do three, four combinations."
Those exercises, which his father called "commandos," were often followed by shooting drills in which Ty had to dribble to one of five spots on the court, stop, pivot and shoot. "And if he didn't make seven out of 10 in any of the five spots," George says, "he would have to do something he didn't like to do, like more commandos."
As Ty got older, the training became more intense. When he was 12 his father would drive him to a grassy hill, and the two would run together up and down. "It was crazy steep, and long too," Ty recalls. "My whole body would hurt after that." But he says running up the hill—coupled with the athletic ability he inherited from his mother, Jackie (who anchored her 4×400 relay team in high school)—is the reason he's as quick as he is today.