Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal announced Friday that he will relinquish his three remaining years of NCAA eligibility and declare for the 2012 NBA Draft.
Beal, a standout first-year player who led the Gators with 34.2 minutes and 6.7 rebounds per game last season, averaged 14.8 points (second-most on the team) on 44.5 percent shooting from the field, 33.9 percent from downtown and 76.9 percent from the free throw line. He increased those averages with a fantastic postseason in which he averaged 16.5 points and eight boards while improving his shooting nearly 10 percent both from the floor and beyond the arc.
“He has all the intangibles to be a great, great pro and to play a long, long time,” head coach Billy Donovan said on Friday. “Besides his basketball ability, the one thing I admire about him more than anything else from the time he stepped foot on this campus, he has been a great teammate. He has been really unselfish. He has worked incredibly hard. Winning is very important to him. Chemistry on a team is very important to him. Coming in and fitting in to a team with an experienced backcourt coming back, the way he handled himself the entire year was really remarkable in my opinion with so much expectations placed on him and him having his own individual expectations. I personally feel like he is ready for this next step in his life.”
He continued, “The one thing that’s great about him is he has a great awareness about what a team needs and there’s not really any area of the game that he cannot inject himself into and make an impact. That’s the thing that’s so special about him. Wherever you play him or whatever you ask him to do, if it’s going to impact winning, he’s going to do those things. That’s why I think he’s a great player because he has such an impact on winning whether it’s rebounding, whether it’s defending, whether it’s getting to the free throw line by taking it to the basket, whether it’s extra passing, whether it’s getting guys shots. He just has a real great understanding for a young kid of what goes into winning not only on the floor but even in the locker room, off the court chemistry-wise. He’s really a special, special kid.”
A consensus first-team All-SEC selection, Beal made his decision over the last few weeks before deciding on Monday. He was “fighting back tears” (according to Florida) when he sat down with Donovan.
“It was just so hard to come in here the other day and tell Coach that I was leaving,” Beal said in a statement. “I got very emotional when I was telling him. I love this place. I love this program. I really bought into the whole experience. I may not have had the best [season] I could have had, but in terms of just fun and enjoying the game it could not have been any better.”
He noted on Friday that moving on to the NBA just felt like the right move.
“It was the right time. Coach just told me, he said whenever I decide, whatever I decide, he said just make sure I’m at peace with it. That’s basically what I was trying to do,” Beal said. “When it came down to it, I just wanted to make sure I was comfortable telling coach and just comfortable with my decision and just make sure I was 100 percent [because] there’s no looking back now.”
Beal made sure to point out that being “one-and-done” was not something he had planned but rather something that just happened after the season.
“Coming in I never thought about [leaving after one year] to be honest with you,” he said. “When I committed, I told myself I’m going to be here for four years because when you go to a college, you don’t just commit for one year. You go for four years.”
He may not be able to look back or change his mind but Beal’s decision to leave the University of Florida certainly did not come lightly.
“This place is great,” he said. “I loved this year. I had a great year here and my teammates were great, coaches were great. Just the school in general was just great. People treat you right here. Everything about this place is beautiful, and I’m just real sad that I have to give it up for something else, but I believe there are bigger things I have to accomplish in my life.”
Beal said a number of factors were pulling him to return to the Gators such as competing for a national championship, becoming a better leader and developing as a player. However, in the end, he made “probably the toughest decision I ever had to make” and chose to move on his with his career.
The way in which Beal dealt with the entire process and eventually came to a decision made Donovan proud, as he expressed in a statement:
“He’s as mature a kid at this age as I’ve ever been around,” he said. “I really gave him a lot of space since the season ended. I don’t think he was influenced by anybody. I don’t think anybody got to him. He kept his circle really small and took time to think about what was in front of him, looked at every single factor. It took a long time for him to get to that [decision] point because there were such compelling reasons for him to stay here.”
Donovan expanded on those thoughts at the press conference on Friday.
“Since the end of the season, Brad and I have had the chance to meet several times and really talk about this decision,” he said. “I have to say, maybe more so than any player that I’ve coached, being young and obviously having a lot of years of eligibility in front of him, he may have been as mature as anybody I’ve been around for his age in terms of how he was looking at this decision, at this process. All of the things that I would have wanted him to look at when it came time to make this decision he definitely did.”
Asked about who he compares most to in the NBA, Donovan said that Beal could eventually be a Ray Allen-type player (“He’s not Ray Allen now, but he will be.”) and potentially even better. However, he did have one issue with Beal moving on even though he knew it was a possibility that players of his ilk do not stay in school long.
“Selfishly, I’m going to miss not having the chance to coach him,” he said with a smile.
Beal is projected as a consensus lottery selection and has a legitimate opportunity to be one of the first five players selected in the draft.
He is the first “one-and-done” player to leave Florida since since Donnell Harvey, who was the No. 22 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft.
Center Neal Walk (No. 2 overall in 1969) and forward Al Horford (No. 3 overall in 2007) are the highest-drafted players in school history.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press