LEXINGTON (AP) — Kentucky guard Jamal Murray will enter the NBA draft, becoming the first of several Wildcats who could follow him to the pros.
“It’s just the right decision,” Murray said at a Friday news conference attended by several teammates, including 6-foot-11 Skal Labissiere, who is also expected to enter the draft.
The 6-foot-4 Murray was the Wildcats’ top scorer at 20 points per game, the highest average a Kentucky player under coach John Calipari. The Canadian also set several single-season program records for a freshman with 720 points and 113 3-pointers, the most ever by a Southeastern Conference rookie.
Murray was a first-team all-Southeastern Conference selection by league coaches and The Associated Press, as well as a third-team AP All-American. He is projected as a lottery pick.
Murray said he will “most likely” hire an agent after talking with his father, Roger, who hugged his son and traded playful slaps and punches with him during the news conference.
Calipari did not attend Murray’s news conference; school officials say the coach has been on recruiting trips since the Wildcats’ second-round loss to Indiana in the NCAA Tournament.
The coach called Murray’s improvement “unmatched” by anyone he has ever coached in a statement and added, “he grew into a true winner and one of the most efficient scorers. … I’m going to really miss coaching him.”
Calipari tweeted last week that every eligible Wildcat would submit his name for the May 11-15 NBA Draft combine, which under a new rule between the NCAA and NBA allows players 10 days afterward to decide whether to forgo college eligibility or return to school as long as they don’t hire an agent.
Murray’s decision wasn’t surprising. He arrived in Lexington with expectations of staying just one season at Kentucky. His prospects continued to grow with one of the best individual seasons in program history.
Paired with sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis — a consensus first team All-American selection who will likely enter the draft as well — Murray helped Kentucky form one of the nation’s highest-scoring backcourts. He scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games and made at least one 3 in every contest.
“I know what he’s capable of doing, and my advice was for him to take time to make the adjustment,” Roger Murray said of his son’s development. “And he did.”
Murray said he briefly considered returning for his sophomore season after the Indiana loss.
“I had a feeling that I did want to stay,” Murray said. “Obviously, you want to come back and get revenge and play harder than you did before. My family and I came to the conclusion that this would be the best option for me.”