Gani Lawal is no stranger to adversity. After a blistering sophomore season at Georgia Tech, the young forward entered his name into the 2009 NBA draft. Fresh from dominating the ACC, averaging 15.1 points and 9.5 rebounds, the buzz emitting from professional scouts had Lawal pegged as a legitimate NBA big-man and a quality late first-rounder.
Then he did something that is quite rare to see in this, the era of one-and-dones. Eschewing the guarantee of millions of dollars in the association, Lawal withdrew his name from the draft and promised to go back to school and carry his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets into the NCAA tournament.
At the time, Lawal explained, "I sat down with my family and after going through this positive experience, where I learned a lot and got a lot of exposure, I realized the best thing for me to do was to go back."
But the purest intentions are not always met with the most beneficial results.
The 2009-2010 Georgia Tech season found itself revolving not around Lawal's story of dedication, but rather the outburst of the hyper-athletic, wunderkind freshmen Derrick Favors. When the dust had settled, the Yellow Jackets had won an outstanding 23 games and reached the second round of the Big Dance -- yet Gani had noticed a significant drop in his NBA stock.
His numbers shrinking alongside Favors in the crowded Yellow Jacket frontcourt, Lawal soon discovered the true cost of his decision. A result of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mindset that is commonplace within the realm of sports, Gani found himself waiting and waiting on draft night. The former-first-round guarantee having slipped through his fingers, the man whose given name translates to "lots of joy" in Nigerian was finally able to take a breath as he heard the Phoenix Suns call him up to the podium with the 46th pick.
Thus, it stands to be said that Lawal understands how to handle the innate hardship that comes alongside this fickle business.
Hence, when the word came last week that Gani would be sent down for a 10-game stint in the D-League, it was only appropriate that the rookie handled the news in the classiest manner possible. After failing to log a single in-game minute thus far in the NBA season, it would an acceptable natural human reaction for Lawal to vent some frustrations upon hearing of the relocation. Yet, not only did that fail to come to fruition, but the first-year forward seemed legitimately excited to be headed to the Iowa Energy.
"It's going to be good to get out there and play and bump and grind," Lawal hungrily explained. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm really excited. There is only so much you can do with working out and sitting on the sidelines. Game action is the way you stay sharp. I'll get a lot of run and the green light, so to speak. I'm going to go there and work."
And work he did. Gani made a dazzling first impression on his Energy teammates, going off for 22 points, 13 rebounds (five offensive), two blocks, and 10-14 shooting from the line in only 29 minutes of last Friday's season opener against the Dakota Wizards. Serving as the team's sixth man, the rookie led the Energy in rebounding, brought a spark off the bench, and helped the team close the game out in the fourth quarter.
The Energy's next match of the three-games-in-four-days set with the Wizards only saw Lawal play 20 minutes, yet he still managed to come away with a respectable nine points and five rebounds, though his six shot attempts were a significant drop-off from the 17 he took the previous day.
After a day off, Gani seemed to struggle in Monday's series finale, notching six points and six rebounds, and only shooting 1-4 in 24 minutes.
Still, through three games, Lawal is averaging an admirable 12.3 points and eight rebounds a game in only 24.3 minutes. He has shown a nose for the ball and a tendency for getting to the line -- scratching and clawing for the second-most free-throw attempts on the team despite only having played the sixth-most minutes.
The biggest adjustment from college facing Lawal is the speed of the game, and at times he has had fallen victim, failing to stay on the court by picking up four fouls in two out of his first three games.
Nonetheless, the former Yellow Jacket has been playing solid interior defense -- he is currently leading the team in blocks -- and bringing an intensity off the bench that could hearken Suns' fans back to the glory days of Lou Amundson.
With three games already in the books, Lawal will get seven more opportunities to see some significant time on the court before returning home to Phoenix. Next up on the Energy's schedule is a Friday-Saturday two-game stand in Tulsa, followed by a two-game series against Sioux Falls.