UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt looks to pass against Arizona State's… (Christina House / For The…)
One high-profile basketball player was coming and two were possibly going at UCLA on Monday, though the net result could leave the Bruins two men down for next season.
Shortly after sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said he would hire an agent and declare for the NBA draft, UCLA announced that North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II had started attending classes and joined the program.
Then, in an impromptu nightcap, a person with knowledge of the situation not authorized to comment publicly until an announcement is made confirmed that junior guard Malcolm Lee would also declare for the draft, though he would not hire an agent, leaving open the possibility of returning for his senior season.
Lee, projected by one mock draft to be selected early in the second round, will announce his decision in a teleconference Tuesday morning. He can begin working out for NBA teams once he fully recovers from knee surgery in a few weeks and has until May 8 to withdraw his name from the draft and preserve his amateur eligibility.
Honeycutt's departure was expected, but the loss of Lee, UCLA's best defender and team captain, would drastically alter expectations for next season. Without Lee and Honeycutt, the Bruins' second- and third-leading scorers, a team that could have opened the season ranked in the top 10 in the country might barely create a ripple nationally.
On the plus side, the mother of Reeves Nelson said she expected the Bruins' leading scorer to return next season.
"As of right now, we would like him to stay in school and more than likely that's what he'll end up doing," Sheila Nelson said.
Long derided for indifference on the court, Honeycutt seemed anything but half-hearted as he discussed his decision to forgo his final two seasons of college eligibility.
"I'm 100% sure this is what I want to do, going all out for it," he said in explaining why he would hire an agent instead of preserving his option to return next season.
Honeycutt, a first-team all-Pacific 10 Conference selection who averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds last season, cited what is generally regarded as a weak draft as a reason to declare and said he wasn't scared off by a potential lockout. He did acknowledge at least one reason to return.
"The biggest X factor, the thing that would keep me from going from the draft was my teammates and how good we might be," Honeycutt said. "We could be a great team, but I feel what's best is for me to leave this year."
Honeycutt said he made his decision Sunday, before meeting with UCLA Coach Ben Howland on Monday to discuss his future. Howland wished Honeycutt well and said he was "pretty confident" Honeycutt would be drafted in the first round.
"The real thing for Tyler is he feels it's best for him, it's what he wants to do and we're 100% supportive," Howland said.
One mock draft has Honeycutt listed as the 20th overall pick in the first round. A NBA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss college players publicly, said he expected Honeycutt to be selected in the second half of the first round, which has 30 picks.
The biggest knock on Honeycutt is a lack of consistency from a player who scored 33 points against Kansas but led his team in scoring only three times in 34 games.
"He's not always bringing it to what we see is his highest capability," the NBA executive said. "The talent is there. We'd like to see more consistency out of him."
Howland said he would counter the loss of Honeycutt by using a three-guard lineup and occasionally playing 6-10 sophomore David Wear at small forward.
Drew, a 6-2 point guard who starred at Woodland Hills Taft High, will be reunited with Wear and his twin brother Travis Wear, teammates of Drew's at North Carolina during the 2009-10 season before transferring to UCLA.
Drew, who left the Tar Heels in February, must sit out the 2011-12 season before utilizing his final season of eligibility. He was a member of North Carolina's 2009 national championship team as a freshman but became a target of fan discontent when he moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore and the Tar Heels advanced only to the National Invitation Tournament.
This season, Drew lost his starting job to freshman Kendall Marshall in the wake of North Carolina's 20-point loss to Georgia Tech on Jan. 16 and left the team four games later.
Tar Heels Coach Roy Williams learned of Drew's departure when he received a phone call from Atlanta Hawks Coach Larry Drew, the guard's father.
"Basically, there was no arbitrating, there was no trying to see if we could rectify anything," Williams said at the time.
The Tar Heels, 16-5 before Drew's departure, won 13 of their final 16 games and reached the East Regional final before losing to Kentucky. Drew averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 assists in 21 games this season, making 17 starts and averaging 22.8 minutes a game.
"It feels great to be back home," Drew said in a statement. "I had a great learning experience at North Carolina and they taught me a lot. I'm looking forward to getting a fresh start at UCLA and I'm happy to be a Bruin."