When Brampton native A.J. Lawson suits up for Team Canada at this weekend’s FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Americas Qualifiers, it will be a debut that has been years in the making. The 21-year-old, currently playing for Atlanta Hawks G League affiliate College Park Skyhawks, first got his start with Canada Basketball as a member of the Junior Academy program when he was in the seventh grade.
“It’s been a real long time, “ Lawson said of his history with Canada Basketball.
Currently in Houston, where the team is practicing ahead of a pair of games against the Bahamas this weekend in the Dominican Republic, this will be Lawson’s first time playing with the Senior Men’s National Team.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It’s my first time meeting some of the guys, and first time meeting some of the staff, too. I’ve been part of Canada basketball since the Junior Academy. It’s just fun, going from doing all the stuff with U-18, U-19 and now finally getting the opportunity to be part of the Senior Men’s Basketball Team.”
Lawson is eager to return to the court in a Team Canada uniform after those experiences. In 2018, at the FIBA U-18 Americas Championship, Lawson led the team with 18 points and 12 rebounds in a loss to the United States in the tournament final. A year later, at the FIBA U-19 Basketball World Cup, Lawson averaged a team-best 16.7 points, to go along with 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, including a 31-point, seven-rebound performance in a victory against Senegal that put Canada through to the quarterfinals.
“Sitting down, just thinking about it right now, I started with the Junior Academy and I was in like grade 6 or grade 7. Now I’m 21, playing for the national team? It’s crazy.”
Lawson’s excitement about this weekend’s qualifiers shouldn’t distract from the years of hard work and practice he has put in to get to this point. The 6-foot-6 guard has had a basketball attached to his hand since his father, Anthony, put it there when he was four years old. In addition to introducing Lawson to the game, Anthony, along with Lawson’s mother, Kathleen, have been there for every step of their son’s journey, providing support and feedback from the sidelines.
“I’m a real family-oriented guy,” Lawson said, citing his parents as his greatest inspiration. “My dad is the one that put me in the game and my mom has always been a supportive figure in my life who has always pushed me to be the best and has just always had my back.”
After three years playing for the Gamecocks at the University of South Carolina, Lawson took another step forward this year, joining the College Park Skyhawks of the NBA G League. Like each of the steps before this one, he is determined to make the most of it.
“It’s my rookie year, I’m still learning every day,” he said. “I feel like I’m going day-by-day, trying to stay in the present and have fun each day. I’m trying to be myself and trying to learn. It’s just the best thing, because I’m a student of the game, and I’m getting to learn every day.”
Lawson is proud to join the list of Canadians playing basketball professionally. Basketball has grown immensely in Canada since Lawson first started playing, but he wants to continue to set an example of what is possible for youth growing up today, referencing all of the young talent spread across the country.
A self-described “high-energy player”, Lawson said he wants Canada Basketball fans to know that he’s going to play both ends of the floor whenever he is playing for the program.
“I can shoot the ball and I’m going to play very hard on defence and offence,” he said. “You’re going to see me running the court a lot and you’re going to say, ‘Wow, he’s everywhere.’
Getting to wear the red and white while representing Canada as a member of the Senior Men’s National Team is another goal that Lawson is looking forward to meeting. When he got the call from Team Canada to join the team for this window of qualifiers, he didn’t need to think twice.
“You’re always going to cherish the moment of playing for your country,” he said. “I just can't wait for it to happen. I want to soak up every moment. I’m just excited.
“This weekend means a lot,” he continued. “Playing for your country is always an honour. Not a lot of people can say they do that. I feel blessed to say I can do that and I just can't wait to put on for our country, have Canada for my chest and my last name behind on my back. It's just a great feeling. It's going to be super special.”