College Sports

How close AJ Lawson came to leaving South Carolina, what he learned from Chris Paul

AJ Lawson recaps his busy summer, shares what he’s learned

South Carolina basketball player AJ Lawson meets with the media on July 22, 2019, after a summer of NBA workouts, FIBA participation and camp with Chris Paul.
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South Carolina basketball player AJ Lawson meets with the media on July 22, 2019, after a summer of NBA workouts, FIBA participation and camp with Chris Paul.

Player interviews that take place outside the South Carolina basketball offices usually involve one Gamecock standing up against a wall — and a half-circle of reporters crowded around him.

But A.J. Lawson on Monday was told to take a seat. He was about to spend the next 10 or so minutes detailing his last four months, an exhausting journey that’s taken him through different cities, states and even countries.

Perhaps he would have welcomed a recliner.

“I’ve been playing a lot,” Lawson said. “I definitely need some rest. I don’t want to overdo it, but I don’t know when that’s going to happen.”

Lawson is the main attraction to the 2019-20 USC team that is seemingly gaining momentum each day. Frank Martin has called it the most talented bunch he’s had since arriving in Columbia eight years ago. Buzz only increased Sunday when Jermaine Couisnard — previously a mystery to most outsiders — debuted with 40 points in the South Carolina Pro-Am.

There’s plenty of intriguing pieces, but there’s only one Lawson. The 6-foot-6 guard, coming off an All-SEC freshman season, announced in late May he’d be holding off on the NBA Draft and returning to Carolina for his sophomore season. That’s where the latest chapter in his story begins.

How did he come to such a decision? “It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NBA, but I felt like coming back to school this year was the right decision for me,” he said.

How close was he to making the jump? “At one point, it was like 50-50.”

What did he learn from the experience? “(NBA personnel) just keep telling me to work, work hard and just learn how to read the defense and make better decisions.”

Lawson, who trained in both his native Canada and Los Angeles while testing the NBA waters, wasn’t popping up on any popular 2019 NBA mock drafts. But his name has already surfaced as a potential first round pick in 2020.

Lawson’s stock has presumably risen since leading Team Canada in the U19 FIBA World Cup earlier this month in Greece. An elder statesman on the team, Lawson averaged 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists as Canada advanced to the quarterfinal round.

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“You learn a lot,” Lawson said. “You learn in the moment. Certain plays, you know you can’t do. Certain plays, you learn just by experience. Like I learned how to shoot off the dribble when I was playing for Team Canada I felt more comfortable doing that.”

Lawson, being one of two players with college experience on Team Canada, took on a captain-like role. That’ll pay off, Lawson said, this season with the Gamecocks.

“Not really,” Lawson when asked if Martin has approached him yet about leadership tasks, “but I have expectations for myself like that.”

Though originally scheduled to do so, Lawson didn’t play in the Pro-Am on Sunday because he was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, wrapping a weekend with a nine-time NBA all-star. Lawson was one of 24 college players selected to participate in Chris Paul’s Elite Guard Camp.

Lawson spent enough time with Paul, the newest member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, to pick up a few things.

“Watching CP3,” Lawson said, “I learned how to play with pace and just be poised with the ball, not really overwhelm myself with too much dribbles or take too few dribbles. I feel like he’s a really good teacher and taught me a lot.”

Lawson’s next move is to Heathwood Hall. He’ll be on the Leevy’s team in the Pro-Am with incoming USC freshman Trey Anderson. Their next game tips at 8:30 Tuesday night.

Lawson’s been racking up the miles. But he’s not on fumes yet.

“You gotta compete every day,” Lawson said. “Everyone’s trying to compete for a spot somewhere and there’s people working not only in the U.S., but all over the world.”

South Carolina Pro-Am schedule

TUESDAY - JULY 23

6 PM CHICK-FIL-A TWO NOTCH RD VS. HONDA OF COLUMBIA

7:15 PM BERNIE’S CHICKEN VS. HOOD CONSTRUCTION

8:30 PM LEEVY’S VS. JETS

THURSDAY - JULY 25

6 PM JETS VS. HONDA OF COLUMBIA

7:15 PM LEEVY’S VS. CHICK-FIL-A TWO NOTCH RD

8:30 PM BERNIES CHICKEN VS. HOOD CONSTRUCTION

SUNDAY - JULY 28

2 PM Championship

*All games to be played at Heathwood Hall.

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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