With the announcement late Sunday night that Junior PF Gani Lawal has withdran his name from the 2009 NBA Draft, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets' aspirations for a deep run in the NCAA tournament next season just grew by about 6 feet and 10 inches.
After an impressive sophomore campaign in which he averaged 15.1 points to go along with 9.5 rebounds per game, which ranked second in the ACC, Lawal had entered the draft with expectations of being selected no later than around pick 15 in what seemed like a fairly weak draft class.
Lawal is looked at to be a prospect with considerable upside as a post player in the league; however, he sometimes seems to lack the strength, polished post-game, and killer instinct that would allow him to compete with the Garnett's, Duncan's, Gasol's, and Shaq's in the NBA game for now.
That's why I believe that Lawal's decision to come back to Georgia Tech for his junior season is a win-win for both the Jackets and Lawal. The consensus had Lawal slated anywhere around picks 25-30 in the late first round of the draft, far below what Lawal had hoped he'd be at this point in the draft process. This gives him the chance to return to Tech and improve his stock with an even better junior season, in which the Yellow Jackets have a great chance to shine.
Though the Jackets finished with a less-than-stellar 12-19 mark, losing an abysmal 14 games in the ACC, those numbers are deceiving, as Tech had a very young team that lost 10 games by six or fewer points. Add in the fact that Paul Hewitt is bringing in a top-five nationally ranked recruiting class of five-star center Derrick Favors, four-star point guard Mfon Udofia, four-star shooting guard Glen Rice Jr., four-star power forward Kammeon Holsey, three-star small forward Brian Oliver, and three-star center Daniel Miller, as rated by rivals.com, and the potential is certainly there.
Georgia Tech now boasts one of the best front courts in the entire country entering next season with returning forwards senior Zack Peacock and Lawal along with Favors, who boast the McDonald's All-American MVP award to go along with unworldly stats for South Atlanta High School during his career.
The back court isn't looking too shabby either, with returning guards Moe Miller—who struggled for much of his sophomore season after an impressive freshman year—along with upcoming sophomore Iman Shumpert—who averaged 10.1 points, and is the returning co-leader in assists with five per game and the sole leader in steals per game with 2.1. All of this was accomplished in Shumpert's freshman season as a PG in the top conference in the NCAA.
Not to mention the team will benefit from getting senior guard, defensive specialist, and team leader D'Andre Bell back from what was almost a career-ending injury last season, as he suffered from a congenital condition called spinal stenosis for which he had corrective surgery to get him back in time to start his final year in the Thrillerdome.
With all of this great news for the Yellow Jackets basketball fans to digest, there's reason to believe that the Thrillerdome that is Alexander Memorial Colliseum in Atlanta will be filled with thrills night in and night out during the 2009-2010 season.