Lawson, Reynolds take different paths to Detroit
They shared a court, facing each other in the AAU tournaments that dot the map during the summer months.
They shared a room and shared stories, two top point guards trying to prove their worth at the LeBron James Skills Camp.
"That's our time when we can just be ourselves, laid back, let our hair down, get our feet wet, just chill a little bit," Reynolds said. "Everybody has to get away sometimes. You know, we go play summer games, summer league games, work out together. We just relax, have a good time."
That could change this summer.
On Saturday night, Reynolds and Lawson will share a stage, stepping into college basketball's brightest lights at the Final Four.
Winner gets a shot at the national title and a lifetime's worth of bragging rights.
Both McDonald's All-Americans coming out of high school, the two have taken divergent paths to get to Detroit.
Lawson rode the fast track, the gilded lane; he expected to be here as soon as he, Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green decided to forgo the NBA in favor of one more year of college. That they hit potholes along the way never changed the preseason presumption: that the Final Four wouldn't go on without North Carolina.
"In a way, we always had these expectations," Ellington said. "That's part of being a North Carolina basketball player."
Reynolds came in through the back door. Considered a good but not great team, this Villanova team isn't 1985 all over again. Rollie Massimino's crew rode a magic carpet on the wings of a No. 8 seed.
But when the beastly Big East was dissected in search of a Final Four contender, Villanova didn't exactly roll off a lot of people's tongues.
The Wildcats aren't quite beggars at the feast, but they are at the very least unexpected visitors.
"We're definitely the underdog," sophomore Corey Stokes said. "A lot of people don't think we can beat North Carolina."
If they're going to pull off the upset, the Cats will need Reynolds at the top of his game. Since he took the detour from Norman, Okla., to the Main Line, Reynolds has been the star attraction for Villanova.
Even with Dante Cunningham's emergence this season, he remains the offensive catalyst, the obvious choice when the Wildcats needed a game-winner against Pittsburgh last weekend.
"He likes to drive right, so we'll try to make him drive left most of the time," Lawson said. "I know when he pump-fakes, he likes to get the person in the air and bump into them and get the free throws. He's a really crafty player, so I'm going to try and slow him down and get a hand in his face."
But in this game, it is not Reynolds' offense that will be as vital as his attitude. He established Villanova's identity for this NCAA tournament two weekends ago when he bloodied Darren Collison's lip seconds into the second-round game against UCLA.
A nice kid, Reynolds isn't always the aggressor. To beat UNC, the Wildcats will have to be all aggressor. They can ill afford to get sucked into the Heels' up-and-down tempo, because while Villanova is certainly able to play Carolina's game, they'll be better served playing their own scrappy style, whose beauty lies in its ugliness.
"I think they are really tough mentally and physically," Roy Williams said. "I'd be surprised at any coach that plays against them would characterize them as anything other than that. They don't give you easy baskets. They rebound. They box out. They dive on the floor. They're willing to take charges. Those are things to me that are tough."
To that yin, meet the yang.
Lawson is Speedy Gonzalez with a crossover, a whir of blue who won't run through you -- he'll run by you.
With Lawson in the lineup, North Carolina averages 90 points per game this season; without him, just 83 (74.5, if you eliminate the first-round walkover against Radford).
Carolina has little use for half-court offense and would prefer Myles Brand's accompanying them on a team tour of the casinos than getting in some sort of rugby scrum.
They need Lawson to avoid the downshift and steer their tempo somewhere toward warp speed.
"Our strategy is to run as much as possible," Danny Green said.
Something has to give. Only one style can win.
Only one player gets to brag.