At a time of year when most college students are peeking ahead to summer vacation, an unexpected number of Los Angeles’ best young basketball players are considering a more-permanent exit strategy.
Call it “height flight.”
On Thursday, UCLA freshman Jrue Holiday added his name to a growing list, announcing he will make himself available for the NBA draft in June.
Holiday can change his mind over the next two months -- he said he had yet to sign with an agent -- but his news conference on campus had an air of eagerness.
“I feel like I’m ready to test the waters,” he said.
His announcement came after USC freshman DeMar DeRozan and junior Daniel Hackett said they had similar plans. Junior Taj Gibson also will follow suit, sources said.
The Bruins’ and Trojans’ programs went through this last year with Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo, but their one-and-done departures were a foregone conclusion. This season, there was a chance everyone might stick around.
Hackett’s decision was something of a surprise. The same could be said for Holiday.
Coming out of North Hollywood Campbell Hall High as the Gatorade national player of the year, the shooting guard averaged 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season, numbers that put him on the Pacific 10 all-freshman team but fell short of the hype surrounding his arrival in Westwood.
A natural point guard, he dealt with playing out of position, watching senior Darren Collison run the offense.
“The most frustrating part for me was not getting as many touches as I thought I would,” Holiday said. “There were times when I’d be like, I’d love to be in Darren’s position.”
Coach Ben Howland recently met with Holiday and his parents to talk about Holiday’s assuming the point if he stays in school.
“Obviously when he has the ball in his hands more, it’s going to be even better for him,” Howland said Thursday.
At the same time, the coach supported Holiday’s decision to explore his options.
“There’s no question that Jrue is a first-round NBA draft pick,” Howland said.
The question is, in a relatively thin draft, would Holiday go as a lottery pick -- that is what he wants -- or slip down the list?
While continuing to attend classes, he can begin working out for NBA teams on April 30 and, by Howland’s estimation, could visit 10 to 15 franchises over a six-week period. He can also participate in an NBA pre-draft camp -- skills tests, interviews and physical exams -- in late May.
Underclassmen have until 10 days before the June 25 draft to withdraw and remain eligible for NCAA play, so long as they don’t hire an agent.
That leaves the Bruins waiting to see if they will have an open scholarship. Howland said his returning players -- as well as incoming recruits Tyler Honeycutt and Mike Moser -- can fill the backcourt and the wing, so he does not plan to “sign someone just to be a body.”
In the meantime, Holiday hopes to gather valuable information from his NBA workouts and from his parents, Shawn and Toya, former college players who have been talking with acquaintances in the league.
“They have really been doing their homework,” Holiday said. “I’m really just trusting them.”