Afflalo to leave UCLA for NBA

Afflalo to leave UCLA for NBA

Junior guard, who led the team in scoring, helped lead the Bruins to consecutive Final Four appearances.
By Diane Pucin,
April 11, 2007

The challenge of playing in the NBA trumped the challenge of trying to lead UCLA to a 12th NCAA championship for Bruins guard Arron Afflalo.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior All-American, the Pacific 10 Conference player of the year, announced at a Tuesday afternoon news conference that he would make himself available for the NBA draft and thus would not play his final season for the Bruins.

Afflalo, a graduate of Compton Centennial High who helped lead UCLA to consecutive appearances in the Final Four, had explored turning pro last season but chose to return to UCLA and try to bring the school its first national basketball title since 1995.

Instead, the Bruins were beaten by eventual champion Florida in the semifinals, 76-66. Florida also defeated UCLA in the championship game in 2006.

Afflalo had until April 29 to decide but said Tuesday, "It's time for me to move on, do some different things. I hope everybody understands this is a well-thought-out decision."

Though Afflalo said he had shed tears, his voice was unwavering.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland said that Afflalo was making the correct choice. Howland also said he recommended that Afflalo, who is 10 credits short of graduation, withdraw from class this quarter so that he could fully concentrate on getting ready for the draft June 28.

"I pretty much called this press conference alongside Coach not to give reasons but to give thanks," Afflalo said. "It's been a wonderful three years here. I've learned a lot, matured physically and mentally more than I can imagine."

Afflalo led the Bruins in scoring this season, averaging 16.9 points.

For his career, Afflalo averaged 14.8 points and ranked 17th on the Bruins' all-time list. He ranks second in three-point baskets with 209. He also has been Howland's top defender for three seasons.

Along with Josh Shipp and Jordan Farmar, who left UCLA after his sophomore season and was drafted in the first round by the Lakers last spring, Afflalo was a key member of Howland's first recruiting class.

NBA draft-projection websites have Afflalo listed anywhere from a late first-round to mid-second-round pick, but Howland said he was certain Afflalo would be a first-round selection.

"I've done a lot of research over the last week, talked to NBA GMs and there's a lot of people very excited about Arron," Howland said. "He will have a long and fruitful career."

Afflalo's father, Danny, said his son was confident he was making the right choice.

"It's what's in his heart," Danny Afflalo said.

In making his decision, he relied only on counsel from his parents and Howland, Afflalo said. He added that there had been no thought yet of signing with an agent or what NBA workout camps he might attend.

First-round draft picks receive guaranteed contracts; second round picks do not. A 20th or 21st pick can expect about $950,000 in salary for his first year.

Afflalo said he was nagged by one disappointment.

"I compete to win, I don't compete to participate," he said. "So when we fell short of the national championship again, I was very disappointed. But as time went on, as the emotions faded and I used my brain a little more, there were just different factors to consider."

Six of Afflalo's teammates, including Shipp, Michael Roll and Alfred Aboya, attended the news conference.

Afflalo said he began thinking about the NBA in high school.

"I played the game for the fun of it, for love," he said. "The world is a lot smaller when you're at a younger age. Then you get exposed to different things and your mind expands, but I try to keep that child mentality to play the game in its purest form — for the love of it. So I think I'll be the same guy. This won't change me."

www.latimes.com

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