By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Second-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman has been a on a 2021 recruiting roll in the past week, and his good fortunes scaled up a notch on Friday as ESPN national Top 50 prospect Johnathan Lawson said the Razorbacks are among his Top 5 schools with a decision less than two months away.
“Yes sir,” Lawson (6-6 combo guard, Memphis Wooddale, ESPN national No. 47 / 4-star prospect) told Hogville.net on Friday to confirm his short list that includes Arkansas, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Oregon, and Iowa State.
Musselman — he’s already secured one ESPN national Top 50 recruit in Chance Moore who committed on Saturday followed by a Tuesday pledge from highly regarded junior college big man Akol Mawein — has prioritized Lawson since offering him a scholarship in late April.
“I talk to the staff almost every other day, and I like the system Coach Muss has and the way he lets his big guards play,” Lawson said on Friday.
Lawson said he will announce his commitment to a school on his birthday, which is Oct. 7, and he previously told Hogville.net that he’s likely to sign his letter of intent during the early period in mid-November.
Lawson was the 2020 Gatorade Tennessee Player of the Year after averaging 27.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game in his junior season.
Lawson comes from a basketball family — older brothers KJ and Dedric both played for the hometown Memphis Tigers before transferring to Kansas; older brother Chandler was a freshman at Oregon in 2019-20; and his Dad, Keelon, played his high school basketball with Razorbacks legend Todd Day at Memphis Hamilton in the 1980s and has been a coach for years.
Day — Arkansas’s all-time leader in career points who led the Hogs to the 1990 Final Four in Denver — is very familiar with the Lawson family and their basketball prowess, and he believes Johnathan Lawson could be one of the best talents to come out of basketball-rich Memphis in some time.
“I won a state championship coaching his brothers, and his dad was my center in high school,” Day told Hogville.net back in April. “(Johnathan) may be the best guard out of Memphis since Penny Hardaway!!”
That’s a huge statement, and in truth having seen Johnathan Lawson play in person on multiple occasions his game is more remiscent of Day’s. Lawson is long and wiry strong at 6-6 and 175 pounds, he’s smooth and skilled, and his floor IQ is high.
Arkansas’s coaches obviously like what they see in Lawson, who enjoyed his first virtual tour with the Razorbacks staff in late April.
“The virtual tour was good,” he said at the time. “The coaching staff has a lot of experience on the pro and collegiate level which is great. They can help me develop my game and the campus and gym were nice.”
Lawson said Musselman shared his vision of his strengths as a player and potential fit as a Hog.
“Coach Muss told me that my game fits in perfect, that his sytem allows me to push the ball, make plays for others, and it allows me to use my IQ to make others and myself better,” he said.
Lawson and Arkansas freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis were locked into a classic battle in December in the recently revived annual King Cotton Holiday Classic in Pine Bluff. Lawson was spectacular while leading his Wooddale squad with 33 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 blocks, but Davis carried Jacksonville to a come-from-behind 75-72 win with 25 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals.