AUSTIN, Texas T.J. Ford, the All-American point guard who led a resurgent Texas team to the Final Four for the first time in 56 years, will forgo his final two years and enter the NBA draft.
It's been a real tough decision,'' Ford said Thursday at a news conference as he sat next to coach Rick Barnes.
Ford said he didn't make his final decision until Wednesday night although published reports as early as Tuesday had speculated he would leave.
I feel like I'm making the right decision. I'm not shaky about it at all,'' Ford said.
He said it was difficult to give up a college career he enjoyed but ultimately decided to chase a life-long dream to play in the NBA. Ford raised eyebrows in the room by wearing the football jersey of his friend Longhorns junior wide receiver Roy Williams, who spurned his chance to turn pro early and will return for his senior season.
Ford said the gimmick was merely to try to promote his friend.
Ford, who said he has not hired an agent, is projected as a lottery pick in the June 26 draft and is likely to be among the first guards selected.
He was the second All-American to declare for the draft Thursday, joining Marquette junior Dwayne Wade. The other three members of the All-American team were seniors.
During the season, Ford said he was 110 percent'' sure he would return. After Texas lost to eventual national champion Syracuse in the semifinals, center James Thomas said, We're going to have the same team all over again.''
But Ford soon made it clear he would consider leaving for the NBA.
He had an injury scare two weeks ago when he spent four hours in an emergency room after taking a fall during a pickup game on campus. Ford downplayed the injury as a spill'' and the medical treatment as precautionary but did not disclose details.
Before Ford's freshman season at Texas began in the fall of 2001, he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the openings of the vertebra the spinal cord runs through.
After consulting with doctors, Ford decided against surgery to fix the problem, and tests later showed that the condition had improved.
Ford said that did not play a role in his decision.
Ford was considered the key player to elevating Texas from a solid but unspectacular program into one that could compete for a national title.
He has done more in two years for Texas basketball than anyone who's come before him,'' Barnes said.
The most highly touted recruit Texas had ever signed, the 5-foot-10 Ford won the Naismith and Wooden awards as national player of the year.
I accomplished a lot of things in college. The only thing I didn't do was win the national championship,'' he said.
Barnes said he expected this decision before the season even started.
I knew all along that if he had the type of year he was capable of having, he would have to make this decision,'' Barnes said. It's the right thing to do. This is his dream.''
He led Texas in scoring (15.0), assists (7.0) and steals (2.0) this season and led the nation in assists as a freshman. His 527 career assists rank second in school history.
Texas returns starters Thomas, Royal Ivey and Brandon Mouton, and reserves Brian Boddicker and Sydmill Harris. Replacing Ford at point guard would likely be Kenton Paulino, who rarely played last season as a freshman, or junior college transfer Edgar Moreno.
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