February 13, 2018 9:08:02 AM
STEENS -- Lawson Studdard doesn't mind the quiet.
Like most schools, Columbus Christian Academy's gym empties after a long day of school and following the practices of the boys and girls basketball teams.
That's when Studdard begins the second part of his day.
Sometimes the 5-foot-11, 140-pound sophomore guard listens to music while he shoots. When you're training for two hours up to five days a week, you need plenty of things to occupy your time, so Studdard also works on his mid-range game with both hands and his ballhandling.
"I have been working really hard, coming to the gym about every night, and our team has been working really good," Studdard said. "Coach (Greg Watkins) has been helping me, telling me how to get better and what I need to work on."
The time alone or with some of his teammates is paying off. Last week, Studdard scored 25, 21, and 14 points in victories against Calhoun Academy, Hebron Christian, and Kemper Academy. The wins helped CCA (11-10) wrap up the No. 1 seed for this week's Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class A North State tournament at Calhoun Academy.
For his accomplishments, Studdard is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
Studdard and CCA will take on the winner of today's game between North Sunflower Academy and Lee Academy (Ark.) at 7:45 p.m. Thursday. The top four teams from the tournament will advance to the Class A State tournament.
Studdard has been a key piece of CCA's success in the second part of the season. Watkins said Studdard is averaging right around 20 points a game. He said Studdard's confidence has grown thanks in part to the extra time he is investing in himself.
"He has always been a good shooter," Watkins said. "The biggest thing with him is confidence. I think we have seen that here lately. He has had several 20-point games in that area against a lot of good team. He hit six threes one night."
Watkins said Studdard knew he had to improve his all-around game, so he has focused on his ballhandling. He said the ability to create his own shot has helped Studdard have better success when opponents play man-to-man.
Most importantly, Watkins said Studdard's attitude has "become a whole lot better."
"He is probably his worst enemy," Watkins said. "He would miss a shot or turn it over and it was just like he shut down. We talked about it several times over the last couple of years. In the last month, we have kind of seen a little turnaround there. When a kid realizes it, it is the first step. Him realizing it and making the comment to you about improving his attitude says a lot for him."
Studdard didn't hesitate to say "attitude" has been the biggest area of his maturation. The other change to his game is the added confidence he has developed thanks to shooting about 100 3-pointers and working on all kinds of shots and doing plenty of ballhandling drills.
Studdard, who has been on the school's basketball team since the fifth grade, said he has struggled with getting down on himself if he makes a mistake. Studdard also said he didn't place a lot of importance on defense earlier in his career. Now, though, he realizes he needs to play on both ends of the court.
"I used to get down on myself," said Studdard, who also plays on the school's baseball, football, and track and field (high jump and hurdles) teams. "Now I shake it off. I would lag and not play as hard.
"I just don't think about it anymore. If I miss a shot, I just get back. It has worked. It has improved me a lot."
Watkins said Studdard's defense also had improved and made him a more well-rounded player. He said Studdard has taken something one of his old coaches told him in that you have to work hard to make your weaknesses your strengths.
But Watkins said there is a difference between playing pickup basketball games and working the extra skills. He said improved confidence has encouraged Studdard to work more on his own to be a better player.
"Actions speak louder than words," Watkins said. "I am really proud of the progress he has made from the beginning of the year to now. Just like he said, he still has work to do to improve, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will do that just seeing the progress he has made."
Watkins said the last week has bolstered Studdard's confidence entering the stretch run of the season. On Thursday, CCA (11-10), which won District 2, will play the winner of the game between at the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A North State tournament. Still, he said Studdard, who is averaging right around 20 points per game, also realizes he doesn't have to score 20 or more points every night because the Rams have other players who can shoulder the scoring burden. That balance presents a challenge for opponents.
"That's the thing about Lawson," Watkins said. "You have got to stop him, but if you put too much attention on him, one of the others will hurt you."
Studdard plans to continue to work on his own in an effort to realize his goal to play at the next level. He also hopes to become a better defensive player after acknowledging he "wasn't very good at it" and that he "didn't play hard and try as hard on that end of the floor.
Now that Studdard has a better understanding of the type of player he can become, he is ready to turn his weaknesses into strengths and to make the strong parts of his game even better,
When asked what kind of player he will become when he starts to play defense like Watkins, Studdard said, "I can do some damage. He acknowledged he probably wouldn't have had the confidence to say that at the beginning of the season. But that just speaks to the transformation Studdard hopes will continue to unfold.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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