UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt is leaving school to enter the NBA draft, giving up his final two years of eligibility.
Honeycutt made the announcement in a conference call on Monday. He plans to sign with an agent, which would preclude him from returning to school.
Across town, Southern California junior Nikola Vucevic said last week he’s leaving early, too.
Honeycutt, a 6-foot-8, 188-pounder from Los Angeles, averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds for the Bruins (23-11), who lost to Florida in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Named to the All-Pac-10 team, he started and played in all but one of the Bruins’ 34 games, and shot 41 percent from the floor and 74 percent from the free throw line.
UCLA didn’t make the tournament in Honeycutt’s freshman year, when he missed the first six games because of a stress fracture in his right tibia.
Honeycutt could have continued attending classes while mulling over where he might land in the June draft, but he wants to focus on basketball in his bid to be a lottery pick.
”I’m going all out for it,” he said. ”I’m pretty high right now and this year considered being a weak draft is a good reason to leave.”
The prospect of an NBA lockout doesn’t bother him, either.
”I’m sure there’s going to be one,” he said. ”No one is exactly sure how long.”
Honeycutt said the biggest criticism he’s heard about himself is his slender frame, so he plans to improve his physical strength through daily workouts leading up to the draft.
”I’m pretty confident he’ll go in the first round and hopefully go real high,” coach Ben Howland said. ”He’s very, very athletic. He can block shots. He shoots the ball extremely well.”
Howland can barely recruit fast enough to replace the talent lured by the draft, but he wished Honeycutt the best.
”He did a great job for us these past two years. He’s worked very hard and improved a lot,” Howland said. ”The real thing for Tyler is he feels it’s best for him. Would we be a better team next year if he elected to come back? Absolutely.”
Honeycutt follows in the footsteps of such recent one-and-done Bruin stars as Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday.
”The biggest X factor that would keep me from going to the draft was the team next year and how good we could be,” he said, adding, ”It was best for me to leave this year.”
Howland demurred when asked about the future plans of sophomore forward Reeves Nelson and junior guard Malcolm Lee, the Bruins’ top two scorers, respectively.
Honeycutt said the only teammate he had spoken to was Lee.
”He just asked me what I’ve been thinking and trying to see if he’s on the same path,” he said.
Howland said the Bruins would play three guards next season, with junior-to-be David Wear getting minutes at Honeycutt’s old position. Wear and his twin brother, Travis, sat out this season after transferring from North Carolina.