Beal leaving UF for NBA


Published: Friday, April 13, 2012 at 9:31 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 13, 2012 at 1:07 p.m.

Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal was torn between the lure of NBA millions and the chance to return to an experienced team capable of making a Final Four run.

In the end, though, Beal entered the NBA Draft, becoming UF's first one-and-done player since Donnell Harvey left after his freshman year in 2000.

“Making this decision was probably one of the most hardest things I've ever had to do in my life,” Beal said. “On Monday, it was hard to just tell (Florida coach Billy Donovan) to his face that I was going to enter the draft. And just the feeling, the emotion I had, it was worse than losing the (Elite Eight) game against Louisville.”

Harvey was picked 22nd in the first round of the NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. Beal projects to go much higher, as high as third overall on some NBA mock draft websites. Donovan said based on information he's received from NBA scouts and executives, he expects Beal to be a lottery pick.

“If Brad was a guy that was (projected) between 20 and 30 (in the NBA Draft), there's no question in my mind he would be back here,” Donovan said. “But I think because of where he could potentially be picked, I think a lot of that became a factor too, based on the feedback I was getting from a lot of different people.”

The 6-foot-3 Beal averaged 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds with a team-high 51 steals while playing as an undersized small forward during his freshman season. He emerged on the big stage in March, averaging 15.8 ppg and 8.2 rebounds per game in four NCAA Tournament games.

“This place is great,” Beal said. “I loved this year. I had a great year here. My teammates were great. My coaches were great.

“Just the school in general is great. People treat you right here. Everything about this place is beautiful. I'm real sad that I have to give it up for something else, but I believe that there's bigger things that I have to accomplish in my life.”

After UF's 72-68 Elite Eight loss to Louisville, Beal said he was in constant contact with Donovan. He said he made the decision based on feedback from Donovan, his family and former AAU coaches from his native St. Louis.

“It was mainly my decision,” Beal said. “They really just gave me the guidelines and opinions of certain things and just the whole NBA process and things I have to go through.”

With Beal leaving for the NBA Draft, Florida returns three starters from a team that reached the Elite Eight for the second straight season. Guard Kenny Boynton announced earlier this month he's returning for his senior season, and center Patric Young said last month he'll be back for his junior season. Forward Erik Murphy, who started 32 games as a junior, also will be back.

Donovan also is hoping for a full season from rising junior forward Will Yeguete, who emerged as a valuable role player this past season. Yeguete broke his foot in a Feb. 21 game against Auburn, an injury that sidelined him the rest of the season.

“I'm excited about our team next year,” Donovan said. “Obviously Brad, I think anytime you lose a good player, it always hurts your team. But we'll get Will back healthy, Murphy is a senior, Patric is a junior, so I feel like there's a lot of experience there in our frontcourt. I think Kenny Boynton has played as many minutes as any backcourt player in the country being a senior.”

Donovan mentioned Yeguete and Casey Prather as possible candidates to replace Beal as the starter at small forward.

“A guy like Will is so multi-dimensional,” Donovan said. “Certainly you don't get the scoring, but you probably get defense and some other things.

“Because of Will's injury, we did have to play four guards so that still I think can be a strong possibility for our team. Casey, I think, at least emerged at the end of the year and showed some signs of the things I've watched during the course of practices. At the end of the year, he really started to come into his own.”

Beal said the reaction from his teammates was mostly positive and supportive. He told Prather shortly after he made his decision on Monday and told Young on Thursday night.

“I know the team next year is going to be a great team,” Beal said. “We have basically the same team. We just lost (senior point guard Erving Walker). So the team next year is terrific. We've got guys coming back. We've got KB who is going to be a senior next year and Murph as well and Mike Rosario. So I think the team next year is going to be terrific, and it was really hard for me to turn that down.”

But if Beal ends up as one of the top-five picks of the NBA Draft, he'll earn a four-year contract in the neighborhood of $13 to $15 million, according to the league's rookie slotting scale. ESPN's Chad Ford moved Beal up to the third overall pick this week in his 2012 mock draft. Beal didn't shoot the ball as well as expected from 3-point range (33.9 percent) and had issues with turnovers (77), but was an exceptional rebounder for his size and finished plays at the rim.

“There is a definite realistic possibility that he will be a top-five pick,” Donovan said. “And I think once some of these NBA people get a chance to know what I know, I don't think there is any question that that's a very, very strong possibility.”

Donovan compared Beal to veteran Boston Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen.

“He has all of the intangibles to be a great, great pro and to play a long, long time,” Donovan said. “Besides his basketball ability, one thing I admire about him more than anything else from the time he stepped foot on campus, he had been a great teammate, he's been really unselfish and he's worked incredibly hard. Winning is very, very important to him.”

Yeguete progressing

Donovan said Yeguete (broken foot) has been cleared to take part in offseason workouts.

“He's probably capable of running, but they are doing more pool workouts, low-impact workouts, but he's really progressing very, very well,” Donovan said. “He hasn't had any pain, and the things that they have had him doing, he hasn't had to miss anything yet …because there is no rush to get him back, they are kind of easing him back into things.”

More stability

Donovan said his decision to hire new assistant coach Rashon Burno to his staff rather than going with a more experienced assistant to replace Norm Roberts was to bring more stability to his coaching staff.

The Gators have lost four assistant coaches over the past two seasons. Roberts, a former head coach at St. John's, left to reunite with Bill Self at Kansas. Burno has just two years of college coaching experience at Towson State (2010-11) and Manhattan (2111-12).

“John (Pelphrey) being somewhat older, and being a head coach a number of years, there has been a lot of turnover in our coaching staff,” Donovan said. “I felt like with adding Matt McCall and another younger guy who can grow and develop with our program. … I felt like we needed to get some stability with some younger people.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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