Deacons guard turns pro

Posted: Friday, April 15, 2005

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Chris Paul got advice from his coach, his teammates and his family. He even talked with former Wake Forest stars Tim Duncan and Josh Howard.

In the end, when it came time to make a decision, Paul relied on himself.

The All-America point guard is giving up his final two years of eligibility with the Demon Deacons to enter the NBA draft, the second in what might be a long line of Atlantic Coast Conference players leaving school early.

North Carolina guard Rashad McCants made his announcement Wednesday, and several others — including Paul's teammate Eric Williams — are contemplating the move.

''I just got this feeling maybe a couple of days ago, that this was what I wanted to do,'' Paul said Thursday. ''This is all still so surreal. I have no idea that I would even be in this situation at the end of my sophomore year. I always thought I would play four years, and then, God willing, I would have an opportunity to play in the NBA.''

Nearly all his teammates attended a news conference on campus, along with about 30 family members and friends. Coach Skip Prosser was there, too, along with assistants Jeff Battle and Pat Kelsey.

As a sophomore, Paul was the leading vote-getter on The Associated Press' preseason All-America team, and he was selected to the first team after the season. He averaged 15.3 points and 6.6 assists for the Demon Deacons (27-6), who set a school record for victories.

Wake Forest also was ranked No. 1 for two weeks early in the season, the first time that's happened. Paul plans to sign with an agent soon, which would make his departure final.

''It was Chris' decision, and as he said, I think it's an irrevocable decision,'' Prosser said. ''I don't think it's necessarily a financial decision. I think it's a decision based on challenges.''

Without Paul, Prosser likely will rely on Justin Gray to fill in at point guard, a position Gray played a bit as a freshman. Williams, a 6-foot-9 center, averaged 16 points and 7.7 rebounds in a breakout season, and he admitted he's also thinking of entering the NBA draft.

''This is Chris' day, I don't want to do anything to take away from that,'' Williams said. ''But his decision doesn't affect me. It's a decision that I'll make for myself, by myself and with my family. I'm just here to support Chris.''

Players must apply for the draft by May 14. If they don't sign with an agent they can withdraw their name by June 21, one week before the draft is held.

National champion North Carolina might lose its top seven scorers from this season, if Raymond Felton, Sean May and Marvin Williams join McCants in bypassing their remaining eligibility. Others from the ACC who have a similar decision to make include Duke's J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, Maryland's John Gilchrist and Miami's Guillermo Diaz.

Paul hasn't yet asked the NBA to advise him where he might be drafted, although he expects to be a lottery pick. He might even get to play less than 100 miles down the road if the Charlotte Bobcats select him.

''I'm sure my mom and my family wouldn't have a problem with that,'' he said. ''That would be nice to play for the Bobcats, but I'd just like to play for whoever's got the No. 1 pick.''

Paul's image was harmed by an incident in the final game of the regular season, when he punched North Carolina State's Julius Hodge in the groin. Paul was suspended for one game and Wake Forest lost to the Wolfpack in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

That loss likely cost the Deacons a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and they were upset in the second round by West Virginia. Paul denied it had any effect on his decision.

''None whatsoever,'' he said. ''Julius Hodge, good riddance. Maybe I'll see you next year.''

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