College Sports

AJ Lawson has ‘NBA starter potential.’ How will long will he stay with the Gamecocks?

South Carolina’s AJ Lawson talks NBA Draft, fashion

South Carolina freshman guard AJ Lawson spoke about his future during the Gamecock Gala event April 15, 2019.
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South Carolina freshman guard AJ Lawson spoke about his future during the Gamecock Gala event April 15, 2019.

For what it’s worth, A.J. Lawson looked like an NBA player. Literally.

As he hit mid-range jumpers and threw down dunks, Lawson did it in a black LeBron James jersey shirt with No. 23 across the back. Wes Brown, who runs a scouting service for Canadian basketball players, captured Lawson in this setting last week. Brown was in an Ontario gym, shooting iPhone video of Lawson, among other top prospects from his native country.

“My Twitter is followed by a lot of NBA personnel,” Brown said. “Part of it’s the social media stuff, but I send my notes to NBA teams about how he looks and everything.”

Lawson, of course, is a rising South Carolina sophomore who is testing the NBA draft waters. The reigning All-SEC freshman has until May 29 (Wednesday) to remain in the draft or return to USC. He hasn’t hired an agent, wasn’t invited to the NBA combine and isn’t popping up on popular mock drafts.

Sources close to the Gamecock program believe Lawson comes back to school, but as the deadline approaches a departure can’t be completely ruled out. Brown, a former Dallas Mavericks scout, said Lawson possess next-level ability right now.

“Athletically, he projects as an NBA player,” Brown told The State. “He’s got incredible size and athleticism for a guard. He’s probably 6-7 plus now. I mean, we were at the workouts comparing him to other guys. He’s got to be 6-7 at least. He was always extremely athletic. His blow-by ability is elite. He can always get in the lane.”

USC coach Frank Martin said last week that Lawson was headed to Los Angeles to begin workouts with NBA teams. While it’s known that former Gamecocks Chris Silva (Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves) and Hassani Gravett (Charlotte Hornets) have performed in front of NBA teams, there’s yet to be public acknowledgment of Lawson doing the same.

“They’ve been keeping it kind of hush-hush,” Brown said. “I think his dad wants it that way and I really don’t know where he’s been working out because I haven’t asked.”

Lawson averaged 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists for Carolina last season. Sam Vecenie ranks Lawson No. 93 on his “big board” for the two-round, 60-pick draft on June 20. ESPN.com’s Jonathan Givony projects Lawson as a first round pick in next year’s draft.

“I think he’s gonna be an NBA player whether he goes this year or next,” Brown said. “And his dad, who’s a great guy, is being really smart and calm about that. He’s not going to try and force the situation. They’re going to wait and see what’s the best opportunity. So we’ll wait and see what happens.

“I think either way, he’ll end up making it because his athleticism projects, his IQ projects, his shooting ability projects, his play-making. You can build on all those things. Maybe he’s not to where he needs to be in a lot of assets. Of course he’s not there yet. But the athleticism is so far above the competition, he’s going to clearly make it. That’s his great strength and he’s obviously built on the skills tremendously.

“Man, he’s got incredible potential. He’s got NBA starter potential.”

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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