Originally created 05/04/04

Al Jefferson declares for NBA draft; will not hire agent



PRENTISS, Miss. -- Arkansas recruit Al Jefferson said his decision to enter the NBA draft was about 50-50. Those chances are still the same - even after he announced plans Monday to skip college.

The Prentiss High standout said he's making himself eligible for next month's NBA draft, but isn't hiring an agent yet - leaving open the possibility that he could reconsider and play at Arkansas.

"I feel like it's not hurting anyone for me to put my name in and see where it's at," Jefferson said. "If I'm not where I want to be, I'll go to Arkansas."

The star of Razorbacks coach Stan Heath's recruiting class, the 6-foot-9, 265-pound Jefferson averaged 42.6 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocks during his senior season.

He was named a high school all-American by McDonald's, Parade and USA Today and signed a national letter-of-intent with Arkansas.

Jefferson said he has been projected as a middle- to late-first-round pick.

Players picked in the middle of the first round last year earned an average of about $1.2 million this season; late-first-round selections made approximately $600,000.

"I deserve to be a lottery pick," Jefferson said.

If Jefferson isn't satisfied with where the Internet's so-called draft experts predict he'll be picked, he will play for the Razorbacks to improve his draft status for either 2005 or 2006.

"It's not about cash or education," Jefferson said. "If I do go pro, I'm going to get my education. If I go to Arkansas, I'm only going to stay one or two years."

Jefferson said he shoots 2,000 jump shots each day and is working out with a trainer from Hattiesburg to prepare for the draft.

If he withdraws from the draft, Jefferson said he would consider purchasing an insurance policy to guard against an earnings-threatening injury at Arkansas.

Two previous Mississippi standouts have gone straight from the preps to the pros: Jonathan Bender of Picayune in 1999 and Travis Outlaw of Starkville last year.

The deadline to apply for this year's draft is May 10.

Jefferson has until June 17 to withdraw his name from draft consideration and opt for Arkansas. The NBA draft is June 24.

"I've got so much love for the game," Jefferson said. "I really believe I could go to the NBA and play for free. I feel like it's a great opportunity. I'm not saying I'm through with Arkansas. I'm just entering my name and testing the waters."

At least 10 high school players could declare their eligibility for the draft.

Jefferson's wide frame could be attractive to the NBA scouts. Scouts rave about Jefferson's strength, soft hands and silky-smooth post moves, but say his conditioning and defense need to improve.

Others say he may be without a position in the pros, arguing he's too small to be a true center and isn't quick enough to keep up with power forwards in the NBA.

"If I can get my feet in (the NBA), everything else is going to fall into place," Jefferson said.

Jefferson tied a state high school tournament record in March, scoring 56 points in a Class 3A semifinal loss to Byhalia. Prentiss won the Class 3A title in 2003 during Jefferson's junior year.