Gators' Speights will test draft waters
Published: Tuesday, April 8, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 at 12:12 a.m.
Florida sophomore center Marreese Speights will spend the next few months determining if he's ready for the NBA.
If Speights goes, it could leave a big hole inside for Florida to fill next season.
Speights put his name in for the NBA draft Tuesday without an agent, leaving open the chance he could return for UF for his junior season.
Speights declined comment Tuesday. His former AAU coach, Matt Ramker, who will help advise him through the process, said that Speights made the decision after talking with his mother in St. Petersburg over the weekend.
"His dream has always been to play in the NBA, so he is going to go through the process and see what his options are," Ramker said.
In a statement released Tuesday, Florida coach Billy Donovan said he will help the 6-foot-10 Speights get feedback from NBA scouts and player personnel directors about his status. Some NBA draft Web sites have projected Speights as a mid-to-late first-round pick.
"I will do whatever I can to help Marreese gather all necessary information to make an educated decision," Donovan said.
Speights was Florida's second-leading scorer this season at 14.5 points per game and led the Gators in blocked shots (49) and rebounds (8.1 per game). He grabbed a career-best 18 rebounds in Florida's 78-66 NIT semifinal loss to Massachusetts.
While Speights displayed a soft touch around the basket (he shot a team-best 62.4
percent from the floor), he had early season issues with conditioning and foul trouble. Defensive problems lingered throughout the season.
Speights will have until early June to decide whether to return to UF or stay in the draft, which is held on June 26.
"We're going to sit down with Coach Donovan at the end of the process," Ramker said. "If it's not the right fit, he's going to come back to Florida."
Ramker said that Speights would have no qualms about coming back to Florida.
"Marreese loves playing for UF," Ramker said. "There's an opportunity for him to take care of himself and his family, but if he decides to come back he'll do everything he can to help Florida win."
Speights is the first sophomore from Florida to declare for the NBA draft since Mike Miller, who left after Florida made its run to the NCAA championship game in 2000. Miller went in the lottery when the Orlando Magic selected him as the fifth overall pick.
That same year, Donnell Harvey also left as a freshman and was picked in the first round (23rd overall) by the New York Knicks. Miller is a starting swingman with the Memphis Grizzlies, while Harvey is no longer in the NBA.
Former Florida guards Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson declared for the NBA draft without agents in 2005 as juniors, and both ended up staying in the draft. Neither were picked on draft day.
First-round NBA draft picks receive guaranteed two-year NBA contracts, with a team option for a third year. Second-round NBA draft picks receive no guaranteed money.
A scout from an NBA Western Conference team, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he watched Speights last month at the SEC Tournament and thinks Speights would benefit from another season in school.
"With normal progress, he would be a lottery pick after next season," the scout said. "The way this thing is going, we take so many of these kids that aren't ready based on potential. He's got great upside, but I think he needs another year."
Speights' departure would leave a big hole for Florida to fill inside next season, though reinforcements are on the way. Florida's incoming 2008 freshman class includes 6-foot-9 centers Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas and 6-8 forward Allan Chaney.
Still, all three will likely need time to adjust during the course of the season. Forwards Alex Tyus (6-8) and Chandler Parsons (6-9) could end up with more prominent roles next season as sophomores if Speights leaves.
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