Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Gordon leaving UConn for NBA

The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

In January, University of Connecticut junior guard Ben Gordon looked like a player who needed another year of college. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun sat him down in his office and told him as much.

Leaving college for the NBA, Calhoun said, would be a bad idea the way Gordon was playing.

Gordon was letting other, less-talented teammates take big shots and when he did have the ball, he wavered between being too tentative or too aggressive.

But when center Emeka Okafor injured his back late in the season, Gordon put the Huskies on his. And now the only question seems to be where he lands in the draft lottery.

Gordon will hold an afternoon press conference at Gampel Pavilion today to announce he is leaving the Huskies a year early to enter the draft. The Mount Vernon, N.Y. resident will retain an agent, ending his eligibility.

"It's time," said Gordon, who averaged 18.5 points for the Huskies, helping lead the team to the NCAA championship. "I had a great experience at UConn but I'm ready for what's next. I knew this is what I wanted from the beginning of the season, so why wait?"

While Gordon played primarily shooting guard at UConn, at 6-foot-3, his pro future lies at the point. Most draft analysts have Gordon being one of the first 10 players selected, perhaps higher if 6-7 high school star Shaun Livingston of Peoria, Ill., elects to attend Duke.

Gordon averaged 4.5 assists this season and was adept at getting Okafor the ball on the blocks. His stock should rise when NBA teams start working players out. He bench presses 300 pounds, has a 39-inch vertical leap and great range on his jumper.

"When NBA scouts have watched us practice, they can't believe some of the things he does," Calhoun said last week. "Ben is truly one of those players who hasn't played his best basketball yet and you can't say that about a lot of college players."

There is a parade on Sunday to celebrate the UConn men's and women's team winning national championships. After that, Gordon will start to prepare himself for the draft process.

"I'll get back in the gym and the weight room and get myself ready," he said. "I know how important the workouts are and I want to be my best."

Gordon leaves UConn with 1,795 points, sixth in school history. He also set a school record with 246 3-pointers. With Gordon in the lineup, the Huskies were 83-23, including a remarkable 19-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

He is a two-time Big East tournament MVP and was MVP of the NCAA Phoenix region this season and a member of the all-tournament team at the Final Four.

"I think I've answered all the questions," he said. "Now I want to go to the next level and see what I can do there. I know it's going to be a challenge but I've prepared myself. I talked it over with Coach and we're all on the same page."

Okafor, who also has a year of eligibility remaining, is expected to join Gordon in the draft. In recent years, UConn has put several underclassmen in the lottery, including Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Caron Butler.

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