ATLANTA - It's fitting that this is the year the ACC tournament is at the Georgia Dome.
It may be the only time that former Norcross stars Gani Lawal and Al-Farouq Aminu play in the prestigious event together.
Georgia Tech's Lawal is just a sophomore and Wake Forest's Aminu is only a freshman. But the NBA is already beckoning.
Aminu is forecast to be a lottery pick this year if he declares for the draft. Lawal is also a potential first-round selection.
Neither has indicated which way they are leaning. Lawal made the All-ACC third team despite Georgia Tech's struggles this year. Aminu was an All-Freshman team pick and is one of the reasons that Wake Forest is ranked No. 8 in the nation.
"Both have had great seasons," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "They are the future of the ACC."
Reminded of the NBA, Purnell quickly amended his comment.
"If they stay," he said. "That's definitely the question. It always is with players like that."
Lawal, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, was the most improved player in the ACC this year, averaging 15.0 points and 9.4 rebounds. He led the conference with 14 double-doubles and was second in rebounding and shooting percentage (55.5).
The 6-foot-9 Aminu is averaging 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds. He had 10 double-doubles during the regular season and shot 52.7 percent. He was named freshman of the week five times, tying Chris Paul's school record.
Two years ago, Lawal and Aminu teamed to lead Norcross to its second of three consecutive Class AAAAA state titles. Now, Aminu is on a team headed to the NCAA tournament and Lawal is hoping that the ACC tourney will salvage Georgia Tech's season.
"It felt great to make the All-ACC team," Lawal said Wednesday after a practice at the Georgia Dome. "As an individual, it made you feel like all the hard work paid off. But I was hoping for more wins as a team this season."
Georgia Tech (11-18, 2-14) will play No. 17-ranked Clemson at 2:30 p.m. today in the first round. No. 8-ranked Wake Forest (24-5, 11-5) has a first-round bye as the ACC's No. 2 seed and will play the Maryland-North Carolina State winner at 7 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals.
"We look at this as a new season," Lawal said. "All those losses are in the past. It's new life. That's our approach. This is a chance for us to show what kind of team we really are."
It is also a chance for Lawal and Aminu to show just how good they are as NBA prospects. Will this be their last ACC tournament?
"Right now all I'm thinking about is Clemson," Lawal said.
Aminu is also concentrating on the present, rather than the future. Lawal is willing to make a prediction about his former teammate, though.
"He's coming back," Lawal said of Aminu. "That's the feeling I get."
Lawal didn't have the impact year as a freshman last season that Aminu has enjoyed with Wake Forest. But he has definitely turned heads this year.
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton called Lawal a "man-child" who has "come on as fast as any player that I've seen in the ACC in several years."
Added Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, "He's good. He's gotten really strong and you can tell that kid's really worked."
Aminu knows that his team is headed to the NCAA tournament no matter what happens at the Georgia Dome. Lawal is just trying to prolong Georgia Tech's season game by game.
"I love having the ACC tournament here," Lawal said. "It's an extra feeling of comfort. It's almost like a home game."
But could today be Lawal's final game for Georgia Tech? The possibility certainly exists.
"It's good to hear," he said of the NBA attention. "But I'm just trying to concentrate on what I'm doing now."