Tech basketball stars set sights on professional careers

The starting frontcourt that led Tech’s men’s basketball team to the second round of the NCAA Tournament will have to be replaced. Forwards Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors have announced that they will forego the remainder of their NCAA eligibility to enter the 2010 NBA Draft.

Lawal, a junior from Norcross High School, made the announcement last Friday.

“I am ready to take the next step in my basketball career…I want to thank Coach Hewitt and Georgia Tech for the opportunity to come to school here and play for the Yellow Jackets,” Lawal said in a statement released by the team. The Management major added that he plans to continue pursuing his degree.

Lawal was one of two Jackets to start in all 36 games this past season, and he finished as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The latter figure was good for third in the ACC. Lawal had arguably his best game of the season on Jan. 9 against then-No. 5 Duke, when he posted 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting and nine rebounds as Tech pulled off the upset.

This marks the second season in a row that Lawal has declared for the NBA Draft. After last season, he entered his name in the draft pool and went through pre-draft evaluations, but he ultimately withdrew his name and decided to return for the 2009-10 season. Since NCAA regulations state that players may only withdraw their name from the draft once, though, Lawal is now ineligible to return to the Jackets for his senior year.

Favors made his announcement earlier today, confirming speculation that he would declare for the draft after one season at Tech. The 6-foot-10 freshman out of South Atlanta High quickly became an impact player for the Jackets, starting all but one game and finishing second to Lawal among Tech players with 12.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. His 2.1 blocks per game (74 total) were good for second in the conference.

As a freshman, Favors struggled at times early in the season but came on strong in the second half of the year. He had his best statistical game in the last-second loss at Maryland on Feb. 20, posting 21 points and 18 rebounds, and he was a big reason for Tech’s run to the ACC title game in March.

Both players are expected to be taken in the first round of the draft. Favors was projected by many to be a top-five pick even before he enrolled at Tech, and his late-season performance has solidified those projections. Lawal, meanwhile, is expected to go in the latter part of the first round.

With fellow forward Zachery Peacock having exhausted his eligibility, the departures of Lawal and Favors mean the Jackets currently have only three frontcourt players returning. Of those three, only rising redshirt senior Brad Sheehan has any game experience; rising redshirt freshmen Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey sat out the 2009-10 campaign.

The women’s basketball team received much happier news on the professional front. Forward Brigitte Ardossi, an all-conference performer for the Jackets as a senior this past season, was selected by the Atlanta Dream with the ninth pick in the second round of the WNBA Draft. Ardossi was the third ACC player taken and the fifth Tech player ever to be selected in the WNBA Draft.

The selection capped a strong Tech career for Ardossi, an Australia native and a solid player for the Jackets for three years who emerged as a star in her senior year. In the 2009-10 season, Ardossi ended up as Tech’s leader in several notable stats. Her marks of 31.6 minutes per game, 16.5 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, 65 steals, 48.4 percent on field goal attempts and 82.9 percent on free throws were all team highs. Her numbers actually went up almost across the board against conference opponents, against whom she posted 18.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.