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Memphis, Keelon Lawson and college basketball's shadiest loophole

Memphis hired an assistant coach because his sons are really good at basketball. This happens a lot, and a solution likely isn't coming anytime soon.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Memphis coach Josh Pastner added a former high school basketball coach to his staff who just so happens to be the father of four elite recruits. This isn't exactly uncharted territory, but something about this particular situation seems to be rubbing people the wrong way.

Keelon Lawson had been the head basketball coach at Hamilton High School (in Memphis) since 2003, but was apparently eager to make a move to the college ranks. He had spoken with at least two other schools, including Vanderbilt, this offseason before accepting Pastner's offer to join his staff as an assistant.

Before any of this went down, K.J. Lawson, Keelon's oldest son and the No. 37 player in the class of 2015 according to, had already committed to play for Memphis. Pastner and company were also hot after K.J.'s younger brother, Dedric, a consensus top 10 player in the 2016 class.

Here's where things start to feel a bit dirty.

When asked by at the LeBron James Skills Academy earlier this summer whether Memphis potentially hiring his father would have any impact on his recruitment, Dedric Lawson said that "that would probably seal the deal for me, to commit to Memphis."

Days after Dedric Lawson essentially said, "if you give my dad a job, I'll come play for you," Keelon Lawsom was hired by Memphis. His second son committed to play for the Tigers just days after that. I'm not sure there's a situation that could possibly come closer to being a legal purchase of a college athlete.

Of course this isn't just about landing Dedric or keeping K.J. happy. Keelon Lawson has two more sons: Chandler (who is rated as the No. 1 player in the class of 2019 by sites that apparently do that sort of thing) and Jonathan (a sixth-grader whom some close to the family say will wind up being best of all the Lawson brothers).

Now I know this all seems creepy and dirty and any other shadowy adjective you enjoy tossing around, but there's a guarantee in this situation even larger than all four Lawson boys eventually committing to play ball at Memphis: if Josh Pastner had not hired Keelon Lawson, some head coach at another major program would have.

The suspiciously coincidental hirings of the family members and AAU coaches of elite recruits is something that has consistently been taking place in college basketball since at least the 1980s.

The big bang (and still likely the most famous instance) of this trend took place in the mid-'80s when Larry Brown hired Ed Manning to his staff. Ed just happened to have a son named Danny who was pretty good at putting the ball in the basket, and who went on to have some serious success for the Jayhawks. The spiral then began.

Memphis hired Milt Wagner before they landed DaJuan. Kentucky hired Simeon Mars, the high school coach of Jamaal Magliore, as an administrative assistant. Villanova hired Tim Thomas' high school coach AND his cousin before Thomas signed with the Wildcats. Louisville hired one of Marquis Teague's high school coaches and then fired him shortly after Teague committed to Kentucky. Bill Self hired Ronnie Chalmers before Mario committed, and Texas A&M hired John Reese to help get J-Mychal.

Days after Dedric Lawson essentially said, "if you give my dad a job, I'll come play for you," Keelon Lawsom was hired by Memphis.

So, yeah, the problem here isn't Memphis or the Lawson family specifically. This is something that happens.

In an attempt to patch this creepy loophole, the NCAA recently passed a rule which states that programs can no longer hire AAU coaches into "non-coaching" roles. The rule prohibits schools from hiring anybody associated with a basketball recruit to a non-coaching role for a two-year period before or after the athlete enrolls.

It's a step in the right direction, but the hiring of friends and family members is still a pretty glaring hole in college basketball's campaign to tout itself as being less corrupt than its football counterpart. That hole isn't going away anytime soon, and it's hard to blame any of the sides involved for exploiting it when those who have in the past have done so with so much success.