DeAndre Daniels, who played the best basketball of his career during UConn's run to the national championship, decided to leave college on that highest of notes. Rather than stay for his senior season, Daniels will enter the NBA draft, as first reported by Yahoo Sports and later confirmed by Daniels on Twitter.
"I just felt like this was the right time for me," Daniels said in a statement later released by the school. "I sat down with my family and we discussed it and everyone agreed, but the final decision was still mine and it was hard. I had a great career at UConn and I wouldn't change it for the world, and to go out on top like we did makes it even better."
However, the good news for UConn fans: UConn announced Ryan Boatright will return for his senior season.
So Daniels and senior Shabazz Napier are UConn's players to watch at the June 26 draft. Napier's stock appears to be rising and he could be picked by the middle of the first round.
The 6-foot-9, 195-pound Daniels' stock probably rose, too, during the NCAA Tournament, maybe to first-round caliber. He averaged 16.7 points and 7.2 rebounds during the six games, shooting 48 percent from the floor, and much of it was against top competition. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds against Florida, the overall No.1 seed, in the Huskies' 63-53 win in the semifinals. Overall he shot 46.9 percent from the floor and 78.7 from the free throw line. He was second on the team in rebounds with 228, trailing only Napier (234), a 6-1 guard. Daniels averaged 6.0 rebounds.
"DeAndre has made an enormous contribution to the success we have enjoyed at UConn, both on the court and in the classroom," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "Besides being an outstanding basketball player, he is a quality young man. We wholeheartedly support the decision he has made and wish him nothing but success as he moves ahead with his basketball career. He will always be part of our UConn family."
Daniels, a sociology major, intends to finish his studies and earn his degree over the summers, UConn said. It is important for UConn's Academics Progress Rate score that Daniels complete the spring semester satisfactorily.
He has been considered the best long-term NBA prospect at UConn, but his thin build and inconsistency and occasional lapses into passive play led to mixed reviews among industry sources. Scouts and analysts who have spoken to The Courant in recent weeks have indicated Daniels, 22, will likely be drafted, though it might be early- to mid-second round.
Daniels played 99 games at UConn, starting 80, averaging 23.8 minutes, 9.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. He finished strong in both his sophomore and junior seasons but never became the consistent double-digit rebounder the Huskies envisioned. He was at his best when playing angry, aggressively.
Boatright, 6-0, 168, also a junior, considered the professional market each of the past two years. Boatright made a strong impression with his defense in the NCAA Tournament. A year at point guard, running the team without Napier, could benefit Boatright, 21. It will be his team now.
"I couldn't be happier that Ryan will be back with us next season," Ollie said. "Not only for his terrific basketball talents, but to provide tremendous senior leadership for us, both on and off the court. The growth and maturity he has shown throughout his career has been wonderful and I expect that to continue as he works toward his degree."
During the Final Four Boatright said "patience is a virtue" and that a lot of players make the mistake of coming out early and "getting stuck in Europe or the D-League." At the parade in Hartford after UConn won, Boatright said it was moments like this that "make you want to stay and do it again." Like Daniels and Omar Calhoun, he did not make the trip to Fenway Park with the team Tuesday, but extended his Easter stay at home in Chicago with his family.
Boatright has played in 94 games, averaging 33 minutes and 12.7 points. He has 362 assists and 134 steals.
College players have until Sunday night to enter the draft. If they do not hire an agent they can withdraw and return to school as late as June 16.
The Huskies will be loaded in the backcourt, with Boatright as a senior and sophomore Terrence Samuel, who played an increasingly important role late last season. Rodney Purvis, an elite recruit who transferred from N.C. State, will be eligible next season, and Sam Cassell Jr., son of the longtime NBA point guard, is also coming after two years in junior college.
At the shooting guard/small forward wing position, the Huskies will have Omar Calhoun, looking to improve after a difficult sophomore year, and expect to have highly regarded freshman Daniel Hamilton.
Daniels usually played power forward, where his speed and range were often problematic for burlier, more prototypical power forwards. The Huskies will have sophomore Kentan Facey, who did not play much as a freshman, and possibly incoming freshman Rakim Lubin, who has not yet signed, at that spot. Amida Brimah and Phil Nolan return for the other frontcourt spot.
Over the years 15 previous players left UConn before their eligibility ran out, and 14 were drafted in the first round (Khalid El-Amin is the exception, going in the second round). Thirteen were lottery picks, including Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb in 2012.