ATLANTA -- Dwight Howard made the decision to enter the NBA draft last fall, yet kept it to himself so he could enjoy his senior year.
What a final high school season it was.
The 6-foot-10 forward led Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy to Georgia's Class A championship, and he won two national player of the year awards. Off the court, he served as the student government association co-president and sang in the chorus.
"I couldn't ask for anything more," Howard said Wednesday, when he announced his plans during a 75-minute ceremony at his high school gym.
Howard averaged 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight blocks this past season, including a triple-double in the state title game; he had 26 points, 20 rebounds and 11 blocks in a 63-45 victory over Whitefield Academy.
SACA finished 31-2 against a national schedule similar to the one LeBron James played during his final year in high school. Howard expects to be one of the first two selections in the June 24 draft, and the Atlanta Hawks are among the 13 lottery teams that might end up with the No. 1 pick.
"If it worked out that I could play for the Hawks, that would be great," Howard said. "But I just want to play and be happy wherever I go. It doesn't matter."
His father, Dwight Sr., had a message for Billy Knight, general manager of the Hawks.
"We're going to pray that the balls fall the right way for the Hawks," the elder Howard said.
Representatives from Nike, Reebok and Adidas were invited to the news conference by the Howards, including Nike executive and former college coach George Raveling. The competition to sign Howard is wide open, according to Raveling.
Raveling believes Howard will be selected fourth in the draft, depending on which team gets what pick.
"A team such as Chicago and Washington that already has a couple of high school players might not want another one," Raveling said. "He's got an NBA body and NBA skills; it all depends on how well he adjusts to the NBA lifestyle."
Howard's family and classmates have no doubt that he'll succeed. A devout Christian, he spoke of his faith several times during his remarks. The entire student body - about 300 students, from kindergarten to high school - were there and cheered his every move.
He made a point of sharing the experiences of his senior year with his teammates, and he did the same thing Wednesday. Guard Aljamon Alexander led the entire team in a prayer, and as they huddled together near the front of the gym, he and Howard openly cried.
"I will try to be a basketball player you'll be proud to watch, and a young man you can be even prouder of," Howard told the students.
The program also included performances from the chorus - minus Howard - and Darius Dixon, who sang two solos. And just before it ended, Howard called up the wife of coach Courtney Brooks and wished her a happy birthday.
"I'm proud of the player he turned out to be, but I'm even more proud of the person he is," Howard's father said.
The phenom's entry into the NBA won't deter him from getting a college education, either. Next summer, he plans to enroll as a part-time student to begin work toward a degree, and he even mentioned attending North Carolina, where he took his an official recruiting visit.
Like many young players, he grew up idolizing Michael Jordan.
"I have made a promise to my parents and myself that I will enroll and attend college," Howard said. "I hope they will accept me."
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