Lawal might return to Georgia Tech

May, 29, 2009
CHICAGO -- Gani Lawal was presumed to be gone.

Despite skill deficiencies and playing for a Georgia Tech team that finished with two ACC wins, the sophomore forward was expected to be drafted as a middle- to late-first-rounder.

But as the NBA draft combine concluded its basketball portion Friday afternoon at the Attack Athletics Training Center in Chicago (all that's left are interviews with teams Friday night and medical testing Saturday), Lawal sounded like a player who might head back to school, since there are no guarantees that he will be a lock for the top 20 in the first round.

"There is a good chance," said Lawal, who averaged 15.1 ppg and 9.5 rpg, of going back to for his junior season. "I wanted to go through the process, and when June 15 comes [the deadline to withdraw], if I feel there is any doubt that I could go in the second round, then I'll go back to school."

In previous drafts, a player like Lawal might be able to secure a guarantee. But this draft has so many role players, and depending on whom you talk to, it might be hard for a team to promise it will take a player who could be interchangeable with someone else.

Lawal said he hasn't had an individual workout with a team yet. His first destination is Minnesota on June 1.

"I may go after my junior or senior year," Lawal said. "I'm not in a rush. I know that sounds hypocritical after my sophomore year, but the NBA isn't going anywhere. I want to test the process. I thought I was talented enough, and that's what the process is for."

Lawal said if he's told he could land in the 25-35 range, which could easily put him in the second round, then he would "have to do my homework, because that's cutting it close. That would be a crapshoot."

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt has been watching Lawal. He, like most coaches in this predicament, is in a tough position. He has to make sure he doesn't try to pressure Lawal into going back to school.

"They're going to be really good whether or not I go," Lawal said. But if he returns to school, he said the Yellow Jackets have a chance to be "phenomenal."

"It would be good to go back and play alongside [freshman] Derrick Favors, [Iman] Shumpert, Mo Miller, Lance [Storrs] and Zach Peacock," Lawal said. "I'm keeping all of that in the back of my mind."

The Yellow Jackets were a major disappointment with a 12-19 record last season. They were considered by most of the ACC coaches as one of the league's more talented teams.

However, they struggled to close out games, losing in overtime to NC State and Boston College. They also dropped a buzzer-beater at BC and suffered a one-point loss to Maryland.

Georgia Tech finished with a 10-point win over Miami (which might have tossed the Canes out of the NCAA tournament chase), a five-point win over Clemson in the ACC tournament and a gritty two-point loss to Florida State.

• Whichever team drafts Pitt senior Sam Young is going to get one of the toughest -- and most improved over the past four seasons -- players in the draft.

Young participated in Friday's skill work for the first time without a wrap on his left biceps. He was involved in one of the most bizarre incidents ever in predraft workouts.

A week ago in Toronto, Young was impaled by a metal piece off a vertical testing pole. "It was one millimeter away from hitting my nerve; three millimeters away from a blood vessel," Young said.

He described the incident as follows, and the account was corroborated by at least one Raptors official: Young jumped up to slap the pole, turned in the air and the piece of metal popped into his skin. But the piece had two sides, and it went in two different directions, making it impossible for him to just pull it out. Young was suspended in the air on the pole before Raptors personnel gently took him down with the pole still attached to him.

"It didn't break off, so I hung on it," Young said. "They turned the vertical pole sideways. But I couldn't take the whole thing with me. So the guys in the gym weren't sure what to do. I waited 15 minutes for paramedics. They came, put a towel over my face and with a chain saw separated me from it. There were sparks flying everywhere."

The worst part was when Young was in the ambulance. "I'm holding part of the pole that's still in me, and the ambulance had to go over speed bumps to get out of the arena," Young said. "I'm trying to keep it steady, but it's pulling on my skin. It was crazy. I wanted to yank the whole thing out, but I wasn't sure about the effect. I finally got to the hospital, they drugged me up, they fiddled with it and yanked it out. I would have been in trouble had I pulled it out. It was the craziest hour of my life."

There were no stitches and almost no blood from the puncture wound. Young said he was told not to do the weightlifting portion of the testing in Chicago, and he isn't supposed to do any lifting for two weeks as a precaution.

He said doctors told him to rest for a few weeks, but that wasn't going to happen. Young went and worked out for Chicago and Indiana after the incident. He's heading to Golden State for a group workout next week. "I was determined to not let it affect me," Young said.

• Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was not a fan of the new format for the combine (drills and agility testing with no games being played). But a number of other executives, including Denver's Mark Warkentin, liked the interview portion of the week.

Teams such as Denver and Detroit were able to interview lottery picks in Chicago, something that didn't happen in past years. Those players wouldn't go to their teams for individual workouts because they were picking too low.

Some agents who in the past might have been preventing players from going to teams with picks later in the first round or in the second don't realize that these teams can trade up to get players, and they now at least have interviewed them before they make the move.

• Noel Johnson, a former USC recruit, is wide open, according to his father Lynbert "Cheese" Johnson.

Johnson, who is from Atlanta, has heard from a host of schools. He said he had 85 messages on his phone after Noel got his release from USC. The list of schools is numerous, and according to Cheese, included Georgia Tech, UNLV, Miami, LSU, Seton Hall, Florida, Florida State, UConn, Pitt and Georgia, among others.

Cheese said USC athletic director Mike Garrett and coach Tim Floyd understood and didn't fight the request for Noel to get out of his national letter of intent because of the controversy related to O.J. Mayo's recruitment and his one year at USC (which included an allegation that Floyd paid a Mayo handler $1,000).

"There was a cloud over the situation," Cheese Johnson said. "And we don't see it getting better. It's a tough decision, but as parents, we have to put our son in the best situation possible, and if we're not, shame on us."

Since a player can't sign two NLIs and the signing period is over (May 20), Johnson wouldn't technically be bound to any school that committed to him for next season.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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