Freshman All-American Tobias Harris said Friday he’s “sad but also excited” to announce he’s leaving his name in the NBA draft pool and will not return to Tennessee for his sophomore season.
“Ever since I was little, it has been my dream to play in the NBA,’’ said Harris, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward. “I’ll always remember how great the fans, coaches and teachers were to me at Tennessee, and I hope they’ll remember me as a player who gave his all each and every day.’’
Underclassmen have until midnight on Sunday to withdraw from the draft. The Vols are waiting to learn what junior All-SEC shooting guard Scotty Hopson will decide. Hopson will work out this weekend before 25 to 30 teams at a combine-like event at the New Jersey Nets practice facility.
“I really didn’t make my decision until (Thursday) night after I went to church for National Prayer Day to pray about it,’’ said Harris, who prior to coming to UT was a McDonald’s All-American high school player at Half Hollow Hills West in Dix Hills, N.Y. “I feel the Lord guided me to Tennessee, and now he’s led me in this direction.’’
“(UT) Coach (Cuonzo) Martin was one of the reasons I’d been thinking about staying,’’ said Harris, who attended spring workouts.
Harris has worked out for select NBA teams the past couple of weeks and said he’s in the best shape he has ever been in.
Harris is projected to be selected No. 16 in the first round (Philadelphia) by Draftexpress.com and No. 19 in the first round (Charlotte) by NBADraft.net.
NBA first-round picks receive guaranteed contracts, but second-round picks do not.
Harris was second at UT with 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and he shot 46 percent from the floor, 30.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and 75.3 percent from the free-throw line.
Former Vols coach Bruce Pearl said it will be a proud and important moment for UT when Harris’ name gets called during the NBA draft on June 23.
“It’s very important in recruiting and in the development of a program to show your program can get guys drafted,’’ said Pearl, who was fired in March. “Tobias was one of the top 10 freshmen in the country as a prospect and he certainly played like it. We anticipated he would be here for a couple of years, but circumstances changed for him.
“But the big thing is that Tennessee will be able to say to recruits that this is a place where you can develop and grow and realize your full potential.’’
Chicago Bulls guard C.J. Watson is the only former UT player in the NBA. UT’s most recent draft picks are Marcus Haislip (13th by Milwaukee) and Vincent Yarbrough (second round by Denver) in 2002.
“(Harris) had a great freshman season, but more importantly he also conducts himself in all the right ways off the court,’’ Martin said in a UT release. “I absolutely loved working with him, over the past several weeks. He’ll always be a Tennessee Volunteer, and just like every other former player, we’re always here for him. He’s part of the family.”
Harris’ departure leaves the Vols short on size; juniors Kenny Hall (6-8) and Jeronne Maymon (6-7) are the only returning interior players. Renaldo Woolridge (6-9) is a converted small forward.