Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Playing at the University of Florida and being coached by Billy Donovan gave Bradley Beal the greatest basketball experience of his life. So great, in fact, it was almost too good to leave so soon.
Almost, but not quite.
Beal, the first-team All-Southeastern Conference guard, will announce Friday morning he is foregoing his sophomore season with the Gators to enter the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder will leave the Gators as one of the most decorated freshman in the UF history -- and with a ceiling that pro scouts believe is high as the O’Connell Center's dome.
“It’s my dream and it’s sitting right here in front of me,” Beal told GatorZone. “God has put me in this situation and I have to take advantage of it. I think I’m ready to realize this dream, so now I have to go and pursue it.”
Beal, projected as a lottery selection in the June 28 draft, struggled with the decision, going back and forth in the nearly three weeks since the Gators' season ended with a loss to Louisville in the NCAA West Region title game at Phoenix. He went home to St. Louis the weekend after the season was over to meet with his family and returned to have a series of meetings with Donovan over the last two weeks.
On Monday, Beal came to Donovan’s office and -- fighting back tears -- told the UF coach his mind was made up.
“It was just so hard to come in here the other day and tell Coach that I was leaving,” said Beal, who won’t turn 19 until June. “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.”
Donovan said he never used his influence to try and sway Beal either way, but instead spoke of the pros and cons of both paths.
“He’s as mature a kid at this age as I’ve ever been around,” Donovan 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.”
The reasons included expanding his game, improving his shot and taking on a leadership role.
In the end, the lure of realize his NBA outweighed everything else.
“It was probably the toughest decision I ever had to make,” Beal said. “Harder than choosing where I was going to play in college.”
We know how that turned out. The 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year and McDonald’s All-American out of Chaminade Prep lived up to his billing as a rookie.
Beal started all 37 games for the Gators and led the team in minutes at 34.2, while finishing second in scoring (14.8 points per game) -- on 44.5 percent from the floor and almost 34 percent from the 3-point line -- and first with 6.7 rebounds per game. He also shot 76.9 percent from the free-throw line.
When the Gators went to the postseason, Beal took his game to the next level.
In two Southeastern Conference Tournament games and four NCAA Tournament games, Beal combined to average 16.5 points, making 53 percent from the floor and nearly 46 percent from long-distance, to go with eight rebounds and 3.7 assists.
“The NCAA Tournament run was incredible, just a blast,” he said.
The way Beal started to grasp the game and tap into his buffet line of skills, Florida fans envisioned big things for next season with a team led by a more seasoned, more confident and a bigger, stronger "RealDealBeal."
Instead, that version will be in Sacramento, Portland, Charlotte or some NBA venue that is selecting very high in the draft. NBA Draft Net projects Beal going seventh overall. Hoops Report has him fifth. Bleacher Report puts him fourth. ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford lists Beal as the No. 3 overall prospect behind only Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of national-champion Kentucky.
“It kind of smacks you in the face when you actually see that stuff,” Beal said. “I really didn’t pay much attention to it during the season, but once the season was over and I started looking at it, it all sort of hits you; makes you pause and kind of soak it all in.”
“But those are just projections,” Beal said. “Just someone guessing.”
Yes, but within those projections exists a reality for the 18-year-old kid who arrived in Gainesville have already drawn comparisons to Ray Allen.
Bradley Beal’s NBA dream is about to come true.
“He’s not Ray Allen now,” Donovan said. “But he will be.”