GAINESVILLE — From the moment Florida's basketball season ended three weeks ago, freshman guard Bradley Beal has weighed the pros and cons of leaving school for the NBA.
After multiple meetings with coach Billy Donovan, talks with his parents and prayer, Beal decided to enter the draft, he announced Friday. He becomes the first Gator to leave after one season since Donnell Harvey (who was drafted 22nd overall in 2000 and played for five teams over four seasons).
Beal called it "one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life."
He said informing Donovan was the toughest part.
"Just the feeling, the emotions that I had, it was worse than losing the game against Louisville (in the NCAA region final)," Beal said. "This place is great. I loved this year. I had a great year here. My teammates were great. Coaches were great. Everything about this place is beautiful. I'm really sad that I have to give it up, but I believe there are bigger things that I have to accomplish. It was the right time for me."
Beal, who turns 19 on June 28 (the day of the draft), averaged 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds. Although a guard, he took on more of a forward's role when Florida lost Will Yeguette to an injury and thrived at both positions.
After struggling in early January, Beal's standout play in February and March improved his draft stock dramatically.
Donovan said based on his conversations with NBA personnel, Beal is a top-10 pick and could move up to top five. Donovan said he did not try to influence Beal and his role was strictly to provide the player with the best information he could gather.
"Maybe even more so than any player that I've coached, being young and having a lot of eligibility in front of him, he may have been as mature as anybody I've been around at his age in terms of how he was looking at this decision and this process," Donovan said.
"All of the things that I would have wanted him to look at when it came time to make this decision, he definitely did. It was well-thought out by him. I don't think he was influenced by anybody. He had great support. And people really gave him space to make his decision."
Beal would be the eighth Gator selected in the first round since 2000, second only to Kentucky in the SEC. NBA Draft Net projects Beal as the No. 7 pick, Hoops Report as the No. 5.
More draft: Connecticut center Andre Drummond, who averaged 10 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds as a freshman, said he will enter the draft.
Gator Signing: Winter Haven High's DeVon Walker signed with Florida, the fourth member of its 2012 class. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard averaged 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds as a senior. He previously orally committed to Central Florida and also considered Alabama, Connecticut and Kansas State.
LSU: Johnny Jones, the coach at North Texas for the past 11 seasons and who played on LSU's Final Four team in 1981, was hired as coach. He replaces Trent Johnson, who took over at TCU.
Syracuse: Zachary Tomaselli said he lied when he accused former assistant Bernie Fine of molesting him. Next week, Tomaselli begins a prison sentence in Maine for molesting a boy. Two other men have accused Fine of molesting them, but federal prosecutors said the statute of limitations had expired. Fine, fired in November, has not been charged and denies all claims. Prosecutors and Fine's lawyer declined to comment.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.