UCLA’s new basketball coach will have to find a new leading scorer.
Sophomore forward Kris Wilkes announced Wednesday that he was hiring an agent and declaring for the NBA draft, ending the college career of a prolific scorer on teams that largely struggled to fulfill their promise.
“Ever since I was a little kid,” Wilkes wrote in a tweet declaring his intentions, “my dream has been to play in the NBA.”
Wilkes’ post included pictures of him smiling next to teammate Prince Ali after Wilkes’ game-winning shot against Notre Dame in December as well as pictures next to Bruins coaches Steve Alford and Murry Bartow.
“To everyone at UCLA, especially to my teammates and coaches, I’m incredibly grateful for all your love and support these past two years,” Wilkes wrote. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me, and I will forever be a Bruin!”
Wilkes was UCLA’s top scorer last season, averaging 17.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game on the way to being selected second-team All-Pac-12. But the Bruins finished 17-16 and did not qualify for the NCAA tournament one season after being one of the last teams selected and losing to St. Bonaventure in a play-in game.
Some mock drafts have projected Wilkes as being selected among the final picks in the first round.
NBA scouts who spoke with The Times recently questioned whether Wilkes improved much during his two college seasons and criticized his ability to impact a game beyond scoring. ESPN has listed him as the No. 73 best player available for the draft, which would put him on the borderline of being taken toward the end of the second round.
A handful of other UCLA players still face questions about their futures.
UCLA sophomore point guard Jaylen Hands, sophomore forward Chris Smith, freshman center Moses Brown and redshirt freshman forward Cody Riley also are believed to be contemplating whether to declare for the NBA draft or return next season.
The Bruins need at least one more player to leave to create an additional opening for their two-man recruiting class. The team did not have a senior this season and had the maximum of 13 scholarship players before Wilkes’ departure.
Wilkes declared for the NBA draft last season but did not hire an agent, preserving his eligibility. He said he was wavering about his decision and returned to UCLA in order to improve all aspects of his game while removing doubt about his status as a first-round draft pick.
“I was right there on the line,” Wilkes said in October. “I was really about to make that decision, but really I thought at the end of the day, if I’m questioning myself now there’s no point of questioning it at all. Why not just wait until I’m 100% sure and come back the next year and be even better?”