New York Knicks: Gani Lawal
June, 2, 2013
By Jared Zwerling | ESPNNewYork.com
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsGani Lawal (31) and Iman Shumpert (1) were teammates at Georgia Tech.On Jan. 7, 2011, Gani Lawal, then with the Suns, would have gone head-to-head with the Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire in his return to Phoenix, where he played for eight seasons.
But during practice the day before, Lawal tore his right ACL on a routine hop move in the lane.
"I'll never forget," he said. "We had Amar'e Stoudemire come into town and coach Alvin Gentry was starting me that day. It was an ESPN game and I just knew, 'I'm about to break out and guarding STAT, I'll probably get a dunk on him or something like that.' But the day before, I tore my ACL. Eight months [out], bam."
Could Lawal, 24 -- who also has played in the D-League, Poland, China, France and now Italy since the Suns drafted him in 2010 -- team up with Stoudemire in the Knicks' frontcourt next season?
According to Lawal's agent, Dan Curtin, the Knicks are "interested" in Lawal and will likely work him out after he finishes the season with Virtus Roma in the top division of the Italian league. Curtin said he could envision a one-year contract at the minimum level with an NBA team.
At this point, Lawal has three workouts confirmed -- with the Magic, Pacers and Raptors -- and he's expecting about five more, including the Knicks. The team's director of European scouting, Kevin Wilson, has watched Lawal play in person, Curtin said. Wilson, who is well respected throughout the NBA, helped discover Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland.
Arturo Presotto//Getty ImagesGani Lawal is wrapping up a season with Virtus Roma in Italy.
Lawal -- who played with the Knicks' Iman Shumpert at Georgia Tech from 2008-10 -- could be the Knicks' next international gem, as he does exactly what the team was missing against the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs.
"I like to play physical, I like to rebound, I like to finish strong, I like to get in there and bump and grind," said the 6-foot-9 Lawal, who's focused on improving his midrange jump shot. "When I go on the court, I just try to be a beast and dominate, get every rebound I can. Plus, I can run, I'm quick off my feet and I'm a fighter at the end of the day. I've been around, man. I'm young, but I consider myself seasoned."
Currently, Lawal is leading Roma deep into the playoffs while averaging 13.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in about 26 minutes per game. Lawal said since his ACL injury, he has become a better athlete.
"To me, it was actually a blessing because I got a chance to really appreciate the game," he said. "I did re-change my body. I'm stronger than I've ever been at 245 pounds, 5 percent body fat, my vertical is five inches higher -- I've got a 41-inch vertical now -- and all the testing for the combine after my rehab, all my numbers were better. So I'm just a more finely-tuned athlete physically on the floor now."
Shumpert told ESPNNewYork.com that Lawal, still a close friend, "belongs in the NBA and will get back in the league in due time."
"He's a 6-9 mad man on the court, and off the court he's a great personality, a great help in the community and a true professional," said Shumpert, who will work out with Lawal in Atlanta over the summer.
Lawal reached out to Shumpert after the Knicks' swingman tore his ACL during the 2012 NBA playoffs.
"I got a call from him right away when I tore my ACL," Shumpert said. "He began praying for me and telling me about his journey through the injury. It helped me a lot and motivated me more to come back. He told me to call him if I ever needed to vent, and it felt good to talk to someone that understands the injury."
Will they become teammates in New York?
"We talk about it," Lawal said. "For me, man, I'm just grinding and whatever God's got for me, I'll take it. I'm just thankful regardless with whatever way it goes."
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.
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