The Oxford point guard hit the gym and weight room every day in preparation for his final season as a Yellow Jacket.
But before Lawler spent his entire offseason putting in work to become the leader of the Oxford basketball team, he had to truly become the leader first. Accepting that role started his junior year while playing in a tournament in Carrolton, Ga.
The Yellow Jackets lost its first game in overtime and second on a buzzer beater, but led Sandy Creek (Ga.) High by eight points with four minutes left in its third game in three days.
“We just didn’t close it out,” Yellow Jackets coach Joel Van Meter said. “Justin had a couple of turnovers and I felt he didn’t want the ball in his hands.”
“We went into the locker room after the game and I went after them pretty hard and went at Justin pretty good about talking about wanting to do this and playing at this level, but you’ve got to start showing people. I think from that game on, I think they took it to the next level.”
Lawler would go on to finish the season averaging 10 points, 3.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game as Oxford was ousted in the first round of the area tournament by Grissom.
That’s when the work began.
“Coach kept me in the gym and in the weight room,” he said. “It was pretty much every day. I tried to set my goal to shooting 500 to 600 shots. Not every day, it just depended.”
While his practice on the court continued to improve his shooting game and the work in the weight room made him stronger, Lawler also went on long-distance runs with his father to increase stamina.
“As a junior, he was a good player, but if he played long minutes then he’d get a little fatigued by the end of the game,” Van Meter said. “I think as a senior he was in a lot better shape and his body was stronger.
“I think being stronger made him more confident. He was able to get by guys whenever they put their bodies on him this year when last year he’d bump him off his line. Shooting the ball, he had longer range and his legs were more in shape so late in games he was able to make 3s to decide the game.”
The work put in showed, as well. Lawler shot 45 percent from the field and 39 percent beyond the arc while averaging 13.7 points per game and also being named the MVP of the Calhoun County Basketball Tournament and leading the Yellow Jackets to the sub-regional.
Now with his high school career over, Lawler is looking toward playing at the next level. He has offers from junior colleges Iowa Central and Marion Military Institute, but sounds like he’d prefer staying closer to home.
“I’m taking a visit to Iowa in about three to four weeks,” Lawler said. “But hopefully something comes through with JSU.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.