WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - One clear sign that Tywon Lawson may finally be maturing, at least as a basketball player, is his sudden determination on the defensive end of the floor.
His physical skills have never been in doubt, but his will and desire to play defense have been lacking at times. All that began to change after Coach Roy Williams benched him against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The Yellow Jackets whipped the Tar Heels that night, and Carolina returned to Chapel Hill knowing full well that something had to change with several players.
"It was way more mental," Lawson said. "Physically we were out there playing, but mentally we weren't all in there. Everybody wasn't going hard. So everything was covered in the meeting we had."
One could make the argument that Lawson needed to change as much or more than anyone on the team. He had been skipping classes and dogging it in practice. Whatever his teammates had to say in the players-only meeting after that game in Atlanta made a difference for this team and Lawson.
His teammates have noticed the difference, and they could not be happier with the new Lawson. This was especially evident on the defensive end of the court at the ACC Tournament.
"He has started to change a little bit," fellow freshman Wayne Ellington said. "He realizes it is time to get it done. He can do anything he puts his mind to. When he wants to stop somebody, he can do it. I think he made his mind up."
That is why Williams said Lawson could just as easily have been named the most valuable player at the ACC Tournament as Brandan Wright, another Carolina freshman who did win the award.
"Defensively, he was really good the last two rounds," Williams said. "He wasn't bad the first round, but I thought the Boston College game and against North Carolina State it was extremely important for us to get that part going.
"When your assist-to-error ratio is 20-to-4 in a tournament, you play well on the defensive end and you score, too, there is not a lot of else you need to do."
Since he arrived on campus last summer, Lawson and his teammates have consistently described him as a "big kid." Senior Wes Miller said that he's enjoyed watching Lawson grow and develop in a lot of different ways.
"Since he has arrived here, Tywon has continued to mature," Miller said. "He's always had all that talent and ability. Watching him mature as a person and a player since he's been here is a neat thing to see."
There have been flashes of his great talent throughout this season, but now he is showing it on a steady basis. He was rewarded by being named to the first team all-tournament at the ACC Tournament.
"He has been playing extremely well, just the amount of assists he's piling up and the lack of turnovers," sophomore point guard Bobby Frasor said. "He's playing beyond his years. He deserved the all-tournament team. He's one of the top point guards in the country right now."
Sophomore Marcus Ginyard said the effect is huge for Carolina.
"Tywon has got to that stabilizing point where I feel like he is playing great basketball on a consistent basis," Ginyard said. "He's really making smart plays out there. He's a stabilizing force, and it's great to see him reach that point at this point of the season.
"His defense has gotten a lot better, which is great because everything starts with through the point guard."
Lawson admits it has been difficult at times. Williams has asked him to expand his personality and his game, and it was not always comfortable.
"It was tough in the beginning," Lawson said. "I wasn't used to being real vocal. I have to know everybody's spots. On this team, Coach wants me to make sure everything is perfect, everybody is in their exact spot, everybody is running their lanes.
"I'm real comfortable now. We're all like brothers. If I yell at somebody they know it's because of the intensity."
Unfortunately, Lawson has become the focal point of one of the hottest rumors surrounding UNC basketball in that many people expect him to turn pro after this season.
"Naw, I heard that rumor too and I was surprised myself," Lawson said. "Everybody was like, 'I heard an ESPN analyst say you are leaving this year, from a good source.'
"I haven't been talking to nobody about that. I'm having fun being a kid right now. So I don't think I'm going anywhere anytime soon."