The crown jewel of the University of Arkansas' 2004 basketball recruiting class has decided to put his name in with the NBA royalty - at least for now.
Al Jefferson, the 6-10, 255-pound center from Prentiss (Miss.) who will play in Wednesday night's McDonald's All-American Game in Oklahoma City, has opted to declare for the June 24th NBA draft, but not sign with an agent to keep his options open.
He has until a week before the draft to decide one way or the other, but told Izzy Gould of The Morning News - a fellow Stephens Media publication of Hawgs Illustrated - and others in attendance in Oklahoma City that he has decided on the first step of the process.
"I'm going to put my name in the draft to see where it's (his draft position) at," Jefferson said while preparing for tonight's 8 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPN . "But you have some time to pull out. I'm going to put my name in the draft. And I'm going to snatch it out if I don't like it and leave it in if I do."
Jefferson, who had already told Arkansas of his intentions to test the NBA draft waters before telling reporters, sees doing this as a win-win proposition.
"There's no harm with that," Jefferson said. "If I didn't like it, I may take it out and go to Arkansas."
Jefferson, who averaged 42.1 points, 18 rebounds and 7 blocks per game this year, has a pretty good idea of what positioning it will take for him to stay in the draft and not pull his name out - which he would have to do by June 17th.
Out of 76 who declared last season, there were 27 who got cold feet and no doubt some will do that again before the proceedings start up at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
"If I'm a lottery pick, I can't turn that down," Jefferson said. "I don't believe Arkansas coaches would want me to do that. If I'm late first round or second round, I feel I should go to college."
The money varies from the top to the bottom of the first round:
• $3,483, 100 per year if you are the No. 1 pick
• $1,234,500 if you are the first non-lottery pick at No. 14
• and $696,300 if you are the 29th pick - which is the last one in this year's draft.
Right now, the highest any of the mock drafts have Jefferson is at No. 23, which would pocket him $815,600.
That low first round projection has befuddled Jefferson and those around him.
"I've been surprised at where these mock drafts have him ranked, there at the end of the first round, but I guess that is just someone's opinion and you have to take everything with a grain of salt," notes Al's uncle Ceroy Jefferson, an assistant superintendent in Prentiss. "I will tell you that trying to get information out of these NBA guys is very hard. Nobody wants to tell you too much so really we don't know anything for sure and that sure makes you wary about making a mistake and going too early."
Jefferson will get the chance in the McDonald's Game, in the Nike Hoop Summit this Sunday in San Antonio and in the Jordan Classic on April 17 to elevate his draft status.
There will be some 75 NBA scouts at the McDonald's Game alone.
"I feel like if I come on in these games and play good, I'll go high (in the NBA draft)," Jefferson said. "These games have a lot to do with what I am going to do."
But he hasn't changed his mind that it is better for some to play a year or two in college such as current Denver Nugget Carmello Anthony, who led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship as a freshman then leaped to the NBA.
"I feel Carmello Anthony seta good example for guys coming out of high school and putting their name and not normally being that high," Jefferson said. I feel like he set a good example of going to college one or two years, prove yourself."
One NBA official speaking on condition of anonymity sized up Jefferson as at best a "top 15 to top 20" pick.
"That's because while the young man can score, we are not sure if he could defend anyone in our league the way he would need to right now," the NBA official said. "He's not big enough to guard NBA centers and he's got a long way to go to defend our power forwards because of their mobility and his current footwork. He would be best served to go to college, work on that and come out as a lottery pick, but rest assured someone would take him if he comes right now."
High school prospects are allowed to play in just two all-star games, but the Nike Hoop Summit does not count so Jefferson can retain his eligibility.
Other top high school stars such as Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Robert Swift will play in three so they will definitely turn pro.
There are up to 12 or so high school players that could opt for the draft before the deadline of May 10 at 11:59 p.m.
While the NBA is toying around with a rule that would make those under 20 years of age ineligible to be drafted beginning in 2005, this would not effect Jefferson who is already 19.
He is well aware how much he could help Arkansas next year if he shows up to join as many as seven other new players, including 6-10, 235-pound Darian Townes and 7-0, 235-pound Steven Hill.
That become very clear to him while watching Arkansas lose a 22-point lead over Alabama and then eventually falling 72-68 in overtime.
"The thing with Arkansas , they have no inside game," Jefferson said. "I saw that (Alabama game). The other guys came all the way back and (Arkansas) didn't score one point inside. I feel like if I come there with the guard play, we'll be there. I believe that. We'll be in the Final Four, I really believe that."
UA signee Jefferson makes a decision about NBA
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