Bama Hoops Hype

The Man, The Myth, The Legend of Alabama Basketball

Lawson Schaffer

Tuesday.  November 29, 2016. 

A marvelous day in my own personal history of the game.  A day that started out like any other, but would end in the most dramatic of fashion.  A fandom was born on that day, as my eyes were opened to a talent that was somehow overlooked and praised at the same time by those around me in the arena that evening.

 The Alabama Crimson Tide Men’s Basketball team was just beginning to get into the swing of the 2016-17 season when they were matched up against Charleston Southern, a team from the Big South conference that on that night did not appear to be worthy of even sharing the floor with this Tide team. 

As the game reached the eight-minute mark in the second half, a chant rose from the crowd.  A chant of pure desire, echoing along the walls of Coleman Coliseum. A chant that with every passing second, grew louder and louder.  In a game that seemed to have been over before it started, the intensity of the chants seemed strange, but it was clear that this chant was unlike any other.  It was for something, something more, something that Coach Avery Johnson was holding back.  And on this night, the crowd would not be denied. 

The passion behind the voices of the fans was deafening, the result of a collaborative effort of voices who demonstrated, in their unity, their truest desire. These fans wanted one thing. One thing they were determined to acquire, especially after their team had put together such a clinical showing.  As the clock made its way down to just over three minutes remaining, the game seeming to have reached its waning moments – aka ‘garbage time’ – their prayers were answered.  The fans made their acknowledgement of these dreams-come-true known in an instant.  Pandemonium shook Coleman.  The man every fan wanted to see was at the scorer’s table. Coming on at last; this game was far from over.

He just wants everyone to get in the game. He tries to get everyone involved.” – Paul Schaffer

The Man

Lawdagger. The Law Firm. He is a man of many identities.  His parents, however, Paul and Carrie Schaffer, chose to simply name him Lawson.  One of the biggest fan favorites of this Crimson Tide team, Lawson Schaffer is a Tuscaloosa sensation and crowds do not hesitate to let him know.  The 5’11, 161-pound walk-on doesn’t even have the size to stand out in a college classroom – let alone a Division One basketball game – but after one trip to Coleman Coliseum, it is not a stretch to say that, at times, Schaffer is the only player fans care to see on the court.

A product of Cullman High School, the career Schaffer put together would justify his playtime at nearly any school on the Division Two level, having accumulated nearly every award and broken every school scoring record in his tenure.  “He just wouldn’t have been as happy,” Paul Schaffer claims.  So being offered a preferred walk-on position with the Tide by Head Coach Avery Johnson proved undeniable, and to T-Town he went (thank God).

Upon his arrival in Tuscaloosa, his career hasn’t been much to revel about statistically, mainly due to his lack of playing time, but the time he has received on the court has been extremely consistent and well received with enormous applause.  His play has elevated this Crimson Tide team in more ways than the score-sheet can measure and has been a catylst to success numerous times throughout his time here in Title Town.  “He’s just a rock,” Carrie Schaffer said.  A rock that has held this group together through some of their toughest moments and a rock that unites more than just a team, but an entire stadium in one motion.  He has been gaining tons of experience during his time under Avery Johnson and as a result, it appears his playing time is on the rise as well (Our Player Report Card breaks down his 2016-17 campaign).

The Myth

During my time watching Lawson play, I have developed a few ideas that while in some cases are unable to prove, nevertheless entertain my own ideas of what Schaffer means to this team, this school, and more importantly, this community as a whole.

A promotional event that took place in Coleman Coliseum throughout the 2016-17 season went by the name of “Burgers for Bricks.”  The idea behind the promotion – occurring around the midway point of the second half – was that if the opposing team missed two free throws at one trip to the line, everyone in attendance would receive a free burger from Burger-Fi after the game.  The idea behind the promotion was to get the fans in attendance making the most noise possible in order to disrupt the opposing team’s focus at the line.

This is where my theory comes in.  Coach Avery Johnson is not ignorant to the hype that surrounds his star-studded walk-on.  And it is due to this knowledge, and the fact that Johnson is a very intelligent and crafty coach, that I believe he used Schaffer’s fame to his advantage, waiting until Coastal Carolina was about to shoot free-throws to send Schaffer to the scorer’s table, knowing that even the hint of a Schaffer sighting will send crowds into a frenzy, taking the roof off the gym; their best opportunity to rattle the shooter.

But what is so significant about this promotion for Johnson anyway?

Attendance at Alabama Men’s Basketball games is not nearly as high as Johnson would like, and he has been striving to find ways to increase student involvement to make Coleman Colliseum a tougher place to play, let alone come and steal a win.  Johnson knows that if there is one thing that will get college students to any event on campus, regardless of interests, is free food.  Therefore, he will do whatever it takes to get these loyal fans a meal, knowing that they will post all about it on social media, word will spread, and students will certainly turn out for the next game with hopes to claim their own piece of the pie, or Burger Fi I suppose.

But it’s not just burgers and blowouts that get this star-studded walk-on in the game.  Avery Johnson is beginning to realize the influence this kid has, utilizing Schaffer more and more when he feels the crowd just isn’t in the game at the moment.

A prime example took place on March 1.  It was senior night, a time to relish in the accomplishments of the year and honor those men who have battled so hard for the last four years.  But on that night, the Tide were not in a place to sit back and relax as they had to face an Ole Miss team who would have loved nothing more than to spoil the party.

That was what appeared to be happening too early on.  The Rebels were dominating the Tide despite a valiant effort and were holding a solid five-to-ten point lead throughout the first half.  That was, until, Avery Johnson noticed that the crowd just couldn’t find anything to get behind, and realizing he had the secret weapon ready to go,  gave the kid the nod.  Lawdagger made his impact almost immediately and in dramatic fashion.  After cutting down the lead that the Rebels had built up to a mere five points, Schaffer let fly from deep and cut the lead down to two.  As if that hadn’t ignited the crowd enough, Schaffer forced a travel from Rebel guard Cullen Neal on the following possession, leading to a Braxton Key slam.  There was no doubt the crowd was in it now.  Johnson’s tactics had worked and the Tide were officially rolling once more.  These two plays got the Tide into a flow that they rode to take a 29-25 lead going into halftime, a lead they would not give up for the remainder of the game.

Johnson admitted postgame that he had placed Schaffer into the game for the sole purpose of igniting the crowd and even mentioned that he had discussed a line-up including Schaffer with his players in the week leading up to the game.  A discussion that was received as a joke by the players at first, until Johnson reiterated his statement, showing he was all business.

This success on senior night leads to one remaining question.

Just how many times Johnson could call on “The Lawdagger Effect” in this next season?

 

The Legend

For the fans that flock to Coleman Coliseum on a nightly basis, a Lawson Schaffer sighting means one of two things:

  1. The Tide is up by 20.
  2. The Tide is down by 20.

Now, while those two factors carry two different feelings, the emotions associated with Schaffer sightings do not.  Just a minute of playing time can add a cherry on top of an Alabama victory or provide a bit of padding to soften the gut-punch of defeat.  While he has only gotten started on his career at Alabama, Schaffer is already carving a legacy into the basketball culture found here in Tuscaloosa.  For the average Bama fan, there are very few images that will resonate in their minds quite like Lawson Schaffer.  I will admit, the “Alabama Face Guy” from years past probably comes in first, but Schaffer makes quite the argument already for a close second.

While at the moment, it’s not necessarily Schaffer’s play that gets people going, it is his presence.  Just having him on the team is an inspiration to a great number of people.  The kids in the crowd always want to take a picture with their hero, the kid who they can relate to, the kid who probably isn’t that much taller than they are, but nonetheless the kid who is working hard to do what no one probably thought or expected him to do.  Schaffer represents some of the best things that sports have to offer, a refusal to accept being average and to go above and beyond to make something greater of himself that no one thought was possible.

Schaffer still has two years with the Tide – unless he declares for the draft of course – and it appears the sky is the limit for this kid who is constantly improving his game and getting more and more time in this new Johnson system. A system that could see him making major contributions in the years to come.  While it would be easy to get caught up in the hype this stardom of playing-time brings, Schaffer’s father, Paul, believes Lawson’s eyes are set for a much higher place.  “His major goal,” Paul said,”‘I want to get to that Elite Eight.'”  And with the school record recruiting class coming in to make their own mark, that dream might just become a reality.  Lawson Schaffer’s legacy is still being written, and it will certainly be one not soon forgotten.

Now, as we look forward to that all important third year under Avery Johnson, Schaffer’s mother, Carrie, issued her own prediction…

I think the fans are gonna have something to really cheer about next year.” – Carrie Schaffer

The horn sounded. 

The substitutions were made. 

With just over three minutes remaining on the clock, Lawson Schaffer was in the game, the show had finally begun. 

The next two and half minutes were a blur.  The crowd was deafening.  Everyone was in full voice, completely encompassed in the moment.  Phones were out; every fan ready to capture whatever the man of the hour was willing to dish out.  In the eyes of Alabama fans, Schaffer could do no wrong.  Every step had a bit of grace about it.  He was simply an enigma. 

With 30 seconds left in the game, Lawdagger did the unthinkable…raising the ball high… and letting it fly… from deep.  This wasn’t just your average jumper either.  After a couple of crossovers, the pull-up game on this shot was a work of art.  Most compelling of all about the shot was that in this moment, despite his lack of playing time or touches on the ball, all doubts in my mind about this shot were cast aside, it was money. 

The moments that followed could best be related to the rush of euphoria one experiences as they begin their descent off the highest peak of their favorite roller coaster; ecstasy unlike any other.  This was less than an ordinary game in theory due to the difference in score and level of competition, but the feeling from that shot made it seem like so much more. 

For some individuals in the crowd that night, this game may have been their first exposure to the beauty of basketball, and I feel so bad for them.  I pity them, because having this experience be your first taste of the game can only do one of two things.  You can either not understand the significance of what happened – ultimately ruining the moment as a whole – or you can live the rest of your life with unrealistic expectations for what the game can be (should be), never fully appreciative of any great moment in the sport due to a constant comparison to the unattainability of that magical moment.  What a sad life.

 

 

Johnathan Anderson covers Alabama Men’s Basketball for Bama Hoops Hype. You can follow him on Instagram, via @johnathananderson_ and Twitter, via @JohnathanA_.

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