GAINESVILLE – Bradley Beal handled the process more maturely than most, Billy Donovan said. As the Florida freshman weighed whether to return for his sophomore year or leave for the NBA Draft, he didn't let outside influences affect him.
Beal and Donovan mapped out the pros and cons, and the coach felt comfortable that Beal was considering the right things. How he could improve his leadership by returning. How a team losing only one senior would be in a position to advance further than the Elite Eight.
So when Beal decided this week that the pros of leaving for the NBA, where he is a projected lottery pick, outweighed those of returning, Donovan understood.
"It was worse than losing to Louisville," Beal said. "Just the whole emotional thing that I went through in this decision – I mean, this place is great. I loved this year, I had a great year here and my teammates were great, coaches were great.
"I'm real sad that I have to give it up for something else, but I believe that there's bigger things that I have to accomplish in my life."
Beal took his time making a decision, traveling back to St. Louis to speak with his family after the Gators lost to Louisville in the West Region final. It was Donovan, his parents and a couple of his AAU coaches that helped Beal make the decision, he said.
Although he was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school, Beal said he came to UF with the intention of staying longer than a year. Donovan reiterated that. But a freshman season that vaulted him from a potential draft pick to almost a surefire lottery pick forced him to face the decision now.
Beal is projected as high as No. 2 in USA Today's mock draft. ESPN's Chad Ford has him going third overall, while NBADraftExpress.com has him projected as going with the No. 5 pick. If Beal were a later first-round pick, he'd be staying, Donovan said.
"I think once some of these NBA people get a chance to know what I know, I don't think there's any question that (going in the top five is) a very, very strong possibility," Donovan said.
Tristan Thompson, last year's fourth overall pick, signed a four-year, $16.65 million contract with Cleveland.
Donovan highlighted Beal's understanding of what goes into winning, awareness of team chemistry and maturity as part of that. The one-the-court results show why Beal's draft-stock rose throughout the season.
Beal struggled adjusting early in the year but hit his stride in conference play and excelled in the postseason. He finished the year averaging 14.8 points, second on the team, and a team-best 6.7 rebounds per game. He also led UF in minutes (34.2 per game) and steals (51) and shot .445 from the floor and .339 from 3-point range.
He made the SEC All-Tournament team and the All-Region team in the NCAA Tournament after averaging 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in the postseason. Those came in addition to the All-SEC and All-Freshman team honors he received after the regular season.
And he did all of that while playing out of position. A natural shooting guard, Beal played at small forward for most of the year and at times at power forward late in the season because of Will Yeguete's broken foot.
Beal is Florida's first one-and-done player since Donnell Harvey in 2000. He is the first one-and-done player at Florida since the NBA rule was created in 2005 requiring U.S. players to be 19 and one year removed from high school before entering their names in the draft.
"I think coming in and fitting into a team with an experienced backcourt coming back, the way he handled himself the entire year was really, really remarkable, in my opinion," said Donovan. "One, with so much expectation placed on him and then him having his own individual expectations. I personally feel like he's ready for this next step in his life."