After a closing season with a flourish, Arkansas junior guard Michael Qualls has decided to forego his senior season and declare himself available for the 2015 NBA Draft.
He becomes the second Razorback in as many days to do so with sophomore forward Bobby Portis - a projected mid first-round pick - declaring his intentions to do the same on Tuesday.
"I made the decision last night," Qualls said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference on the Bud Walton Arena floor. " I was just thinking about. I went over it with my dad and I just told him I feel like this is the best thing to do for my situation, for my family. So I just had to take it."
Qualls averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds this past season for the Razorbacks (27-9) and had 28 points against North Carolina in Arkansas' second-round NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina.
He averaged 23.5 points in the NCAA Tournament, a figure that was second among players who played at least two games in the Big Dance, and admitted that it was a tough decision to declare for the NBA Draft, which will be held June 25th in New York City.
"It's been tough, especially when you only have 13 hours left for your degree," Qualls said. " But I just feel like this was the best decision to make. My school will be paid for anyway. It's easy for a guy like me to get 13 hours no matter if it's online or anything. I've got a brain and I can use it.
"I just feel like it's my time. Arkansas' been wonderful to me over these past three years. I thank them for everything that they helped me achieve. But it's my time to go."
Qualls, who is a second-round pick in some NBA projections, has a three-year old son named Michael, Jr., and that played a part in his decision.
"I'm just trying to put food on the table," Qualls said. "So I'm going to get paid to play professionally. That's just what it is."
Qualls' parents and those of his girlfriend have taken care of the youngster he calls M.J. the last three years.
"While I've been here, my family, my girlfriend's family, they've been taking care of my son for three years," Qualls said. " That's three years they've had watching over my son while I've been at school. I just wanted them to watch over my son until I had a definite way to put food on the table. And it's now. Now is the time to do what I have to do. It's just a leap of faith.
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, who now must replace 80 percent of his starting line up, wished his junior star well.
"We certainly wish Mike all the best as he pursues his basketball career after college,” Anderson said. “I know this was a difficult decision for Mike, but one he ultimately thought was best for him. Mike has improved so much since he arrived on campus three years ago and hopefully that progressions continues. He has a bright future.”
Qualls, who had agents begin calling him after he announced his decision via twitter earlier in the afternoon, heard back from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee that he would likely be a second-round pick.
"Early to mid second round," Qualls said. "But if I go in there and work and open up some eyes, I can move up to a first-round spot. It's all about agents, who I work with. I want to have somebody that works hard for me, just as hard as I work. Things have yet to be determined, all that type of stuff. … But second round. Early to mid second round."
Quals said that he and Portis did talk about coming back with the idea of winning a national championship.
"Of course me and Bobby sat down and talked about it," Qualls said. "Talked about coming back, how great it would be to try to win a national championship. But at the end of the day you have to make a decision for yourself. We put everything into this.
"This year we had a wonderful year. We made it to the NCAA Tournament. No one's made it there since 08. We've got some guys that can go to the draft, possibly getting drafted. It was a great year for us. It was a very great year for us."
Qualls thinks he had Portis are leaving the program in better shape than some might think.
"Arkansas is still going to be 40 minutes of Hell, pressing, getting after you," Qualls said. "The only thing that's changed is the players. Not the way that they're going to play. It's a defensive team. You don't have to be able to score the ball like that if you can stop somebody. You never know, next year the score will probably be 5-2.
"As long as you can stop somebody, as along as you can do something, as long as you can grind it out, you can get the wins. This team right here is, to me, better than the Coty Clarke and NIT team. Still. I still feel like this is an NCAA caliber team. I've got a lot of faith in those guys. They're going to work over the summer and they're going to be big-name players."
Anderson - who has signed Columbia, Mo., Hickman guard Jimmy Whitt (6-4, 170) and will sign Huntington. W.V., Prep power forward Ted Kapita (6-9, 240) later this week, now has three scholarships to sign players this spring.
“We are still very active recruiting,” Anderson said. “We never stopped recruiting. That is the great thing about the staff. We understand the climate.
“When you look out and you see a lot of transfers and see a lot of kids putting their names in the draft, you can’t get caught off guard. So obviously we have got our eyes on some other players and hopefully we will fill those spots.”
Qualls became the 37th player in program history to score 1,000 career points, which fittingly came on a dunk in the regular season finale against LSU.
He reached double figures in 30 of 36 games and provided the Bud Walton Arena fans with eight of his 12 20-point outings on the season.
Qualls’ best performance at BWA in front of Razorback fans came this season against Alabama when he scored a career-high 30 points, grabbed eight rebounds and posted a pair of plays on SportsCenter’s Top 10 later that night.
Known for his highlight-reel dunks, Qualls landed on the #SCtop10 five times this year to bring his career total to a staggering 13.
Qualls proved he was more than a high-riser the last two seasons, hitting 97 three-pointers over that span, led by a career-best 55 this season.
After reaching double figures in just three of his first 29 career games, Qualls did so in 56 of his last 71 en route to becoming the 26th Razorback to score 1,000 points in three seasons.
Qualls joins the other half of the SEC’s top scoring duo (33.4 ppg) in Portis in declaring for the NBA Draft that will be held on Thursday, June 25.
Arkansas hasn’t had multiple players selected in the same NBA Draft since 1992 when Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller were each selected in the first round and Isaiah Morris was picked in the second round.
Anderson believes this will be an opportunity for several players to step up.
“It is really an opportunity for him to showcase what he is capable of doing,” Anderson said. “This is a big off-season for him as well as a guy like Trey Thompson and Keaton Miles, another senior, as well as Jacorey Williams.
“Again the opportunity presents itself for some other guys to step up. You have a guy like Dusty Hannahs sitting out and I think he is going to provide some exciting moments for our basketball team.
“It is going to be a combination of the guys that were here last year really stepping up there game and it is not going to be just one or two, it is going to be a team - hopefully - improvement that is going to compete and compete at a high level.”
Qualls and Portis were still working out with their teammates on Wednesday.
“It tells you that they are close to these guys that they are here now,” Anderson said. “They is the unique thing about this team. To me the culture has been set, the program is intact and it just shows you by these guys right now, they have announced they are moving on, but they understand that we have got to continue to work and get ourselves better as we go into the different camps.
“So they are down here pushing these guys to get better. I think it is kind of neat and speaks volumes of the type of kids that we have in our program.”
Arkansas' Qualls Declares For the NBA Draft
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