There was a time when Will Culliton dreaded seeing his best friend, Mo Lawal, in the halls at Breck.
They have attended the Golden Valley K-12 prep school together since fifth grade. Friends the entire time, they played on rival youth basketball teams — Culliton for Orono, Lawal for Southside in Minneapolis — and in those days Lawal had the edge.
“I never beat him in middle school,” Culliton said. “I hated playing against him. When we’d come back to school after a tournament, I’d hear about it the entire time.”
Now teammates and senior leaders for the surprising Mustangs, it’s Culliton, a 6-foot-3 sniper with NBA range on his jumpshot, who is getting noticed for his frequent scoring binges. The smooth and consistent Lawal, also 6-3, spends much of his time as Culliton’s setup man.
With Breck off to a 13-3 start, it’s a relationship at its harmonious best.
“He’s my best friend,” said Culliton the day after drilling eight three-pointers in an 18-point victory at Annandale that left the Cardinal faithful shaking their heads and smiling in a sort of exasperated admiration. “I wouldn’t be able to make half of those shots if Mo wasn’t doing what he does.”
Lawal returns the praise in kind, knowing that, without Culliton’s dagger-like sharpshooting, the Mustangs wouldn’t be living in such a high-rent district.
“He deserves all of the attention he gets,” Lawal said. “My job is to get to the basket, shoot the three a little and find ways to get Will the ball.”
Playing in their fourth year of varsity, they average more than 43 points per game. Culliton is averaging 24.9 points and is second in the state in three-pointers with 72. Lawal is averaging 18.4 points and chips in with four assists and four rebounds per game.
“We’ve had some high expectations in the past, but we haven’t been able to live up to them,” Culliton said. “But we’ve got that senior confidence now.”
Coach Rick Webb agrees that having a team heavy with seniors, including forwards Henry Cousineau and Justin Bergerson — the team’s third- and fourth-leading scorers — is key to the Mustangs’ success.
“You really see the maturity come out,” Webb said. “Taking Will and Mo, for example, they were maybe a little hesitant to take the shots as sophomore or juniors that they take now. They’ve taken the responsibility on their shoulders and said ‘This is what we’ve got to do.’ ”
Culliton and Lawal set themselves apart from many other backcourt combos with what they do in the classroom. Both are proud to be honor students excelling in Breck’s rigorous college-prep atmosphere. Culliton has accepted an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, where he’ll play basketball next season. Lawal will matriculate at Pennsylvania of the Ivy League, where he’s been accepted at the Wharton School of Business.
“It’s school, family and then basketball,” said Lawal, who has not yet decided if he will try to walk on at Penn.
It puts basketball in the proper perspective, Webb said.
“They know they’re not going to play professional basketball,” Webb said. “But they recognize the opportunities basketball affords them and the choices they have.”
In the short term, however, life could scarcely get much better for the high-scoring senior twosome. They’re best friends leading a team that is likely the school’s best since the 2006 Class 2A runners-up.
“I know I have a lot to look forward to in college, but this is definitely my most memorable year,” Culliton said. “Playing with Mo and the rest of the guys and doing what we’ve been doing, it doesn’t get much better than this.”