Lawal staying in school

ATLANTA - Gani Lawal's decision became somewhat common knowledge Sunday night, but he made it official Monday.

The former Norcross standout filed the paperwork to officially withdraw his name from next week's NBA draft and will return to Georgia Tech for his junior season.

Lawal had initially entered his name into the draft April 20 after a sophomore season in which he was one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's most improved players, averaging 15.1 points and a team-best 9.5 rebounds per game to earn third-team All-ACC honors.

However, the 6-foot-9 post player left himself the option to return by not hiring an agent. He elected to withdraw after working out for several different NBA teams, despite some projections that had him as a potential first-round pick.

Lawal was unavailable for comment Monday, but emphasized the positives of going through the process in a prepared statement released by Tech.

"I learned a lot about my game and what I need to work on, and coming back to school will be very beneficial toward that end," Lawal said. "I'll also be a year closer to graduating and I'm excited about the team we'll have next year."

Lawal is hardly alone in being excited about the team the Yellow Jackets figure to put on the court in 2009-10.

Joining Lawal are fellow returning starters Zachery Peacock, Mo Miller and Iman Shumpert, plus defensive stalwart DeAndre Bell, who returns after missing all of last season following spinal surgery.

Add a recruiting class considered among the nation's best - including Mr. Georgia Basketball Derrick Favors of South Atlanta and Class AAAA Player of the Year Mfon Udofia of Miller Grove - and Tech coach Paul Hewitt also has reason to be excited.

"It was a good phone call to get from (Lawal on Sunday)," Hewitt said during a news conference Monday. "It sounded like he learned an awful lot through the process. I really haven't had a lengthy discussion with him (as to) why he decided to make this decision.

"We should have a very good team. I think (Lawal) will bring maturity and experience that will really help us. ... The numbers that he can post are going to be impressive, but I think the leadership he can provide for us will be (more) important."

Hewitt also believes the leadership he's developed over his two seasons with the Jackets will only be enhanced by his participation in the draft process.

"I know he spoke to (Tech assistant coach) John (O'Connor) and one of the things he said to John was that ... (the advice he got from teams he worked out for were) the same things we've been talking about the first two years," Hewitt said. "It's kind of like kids. You tell them something, they don't believe it. They go out and hear it from somebody else, all of a sudden it validates everything.

"It's good to have another voice in the locker room to reinforce things, and I think he'll provide that."