Gani Lawal Interview: Lawal Discusses His McDonald's All-American Bid, Playing at Georgia Tech, Teaming With Steve Nash, Ballin' Overseas & Life After Basketball
Jeffrey Kee: Describe your upbringing and how you were introduced to basketball.
Gani Lawal: Growing up, my mom kept me very busy. I was in the band, ran track, swam, and played basketball and football. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and football is a way of life down there, so I gravitated to that first. Probably around middle school going into high school I started falling in love with basketball and stuck with it.
Kee: You were in the school band?
Lawal: Yeah, I played the trumpet. I was pretty good too.
Kee: In high school, you were a McDonald’s All-American and Georgia Player of the Year. Talk about your high school career a little bit.
Lawal: High school was a very successful time for me. Like you said, I was a McDonald’s All-American and won two state championships. It’s funny because my ten year reunion is coming up. I’m feeling old!
Kee: What was your McDonald’s All-American experience like?
Lawal: It was fantastic. I always say that the 2007 senior class was the best ever. We had me, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Nolan Smith, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Kyle Singler. The list goes on and on. There was a lot of great talent in that class.
Kee: Were you friends with a lot of these guys?
Lawal: Oh yeah, definitely. We all climbed the ranks together, so we had very close bonds with one another. All of us played in the Nike All-American Camp, Nike Skills Academy and the ABCD Camp. Then we played against each other throughout college, so you develop relationships just from competing with these guys for so many years.
Kee: Did you ever consider going from high school to the NBA or did you always have your mind set on playing at Georgia Tech?
Lawal: I really didn’t think about it too much. I believe I had the ability to go from high school to the NBA, but I was focused on getting an education, so going to college was always my number one option.
Kee: I read that you had a 3.8 GPA at Georgia Tech.
Lawal: Yes, I did. I majored in Business Management with a concentration in Finance. My school work was always very important to me. My parents are old school, so if I didn’t take my education seriously then my family would make me take it seriously.
Kee: On the court, how would you sum up your career at Tech?
Lawal: I had a great time. I was blessed to be able to play my college ball in my hometown and play in the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference], which is hands down the best conference to compete in. Also, my best friend, Lance Storrs, who played in the AAU circuit with me, also signed to play at Georgia Tech, so we were teammates. I had so much fun in college.
Kee: You ended up leaving college after your junior year for the NBA. What went into your decision to leave early?
Lawal: Well, I had actually put my name down for the NBA after my sophomore year because, personally, I had a dominant season even though we didn’t have a great year team wise. I ended up deciding against it and went back to Georgia Tech. As a junior, I had another really successful season and after that I knew I was ready for the next level.
Going into the draft, I just wanted to go to a team that would put me in the best position to succeed. I wanted to go to a good city with a winning system, so being drafted by the Phoenix Suns was a great fit for me.
Kee: What was it like playing for the Suns?
Lawal: Playing for the Suns was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to play with Steve Nash. He’s a great guy. Playing with him, you always have to have your hands ready because Steve will pass the ball at anytime and anywhere. The Suns organization had a phenomenal medical team. Unfortunately, my rookie year, I tore my ACL and their training staff helped me rehabilitate and got me in the best condition of my life. When I returned to the court, I was so much stronger because of them. In general, just being in the NBA was wonderful. It was something I had worked for my entire life and for that dream to come true was surreal.
Lawal: The guys on the team actually had a running joke about Amar'e. We called him a “Phoenix Knick” because even though he wasn’t on the Suns anymore, he was always around. He still had his house in Phoenix and would still come to the arena to work out with us, so I actually got to know him because of that. He was a really good dude. I was able to pick up little things from him like how to approach the game and to always have that dog mentality when I’m playing in the post.
Kee: The next season the NBA had the lockout. What did you do during that time?
Lawal: I went overseas to play in Poland and after that I went to training camp with the San Antonio Spurs. Playing in Poland was a very interesting experience because it was my first time playing internationally. I was far away from home and had to keep an open mind about being in a different culture and away from my family. Playing basketball is easy, but there are so many other things that factor into playing overseas.
Kee: Are fans more passionate overseas or in the NBA?
Lawal: That’s a tough question. NBA fans are really passionate depending on the franchise; like Lakers, Knicks and Celtics fans. But there are some teams overseas whose fan bases are soccer like. The fans are fighting, throwing flares and heckling the opposing team all game. It’s crazy.
Kee: What are your basketball goals moving forward?
Lawal: Lord willing, if I’m able to earn another shot at the NBA that would be great. As a competitor, I want to be playing at the highest possible level, which is the NBA, but if that doesn’t happen, I want to be playing in the best leagues overseas that will continue to help me provide for my family.
Kee: What are some of your aspirations when your playing days are over?
Lawal: When basketball is over, I also want to write, I want to travel the world, work with different sports teams and consult. I love people and enjoy helping others become the best versions of themselves. I can see myself being something along the lines of a motivational speaker that helps people with their personal growth and development. I believe that everyone has a seed of greatness within that needs to be watered, and I think I would be great in helping people maximize their full potential.