University of Miami basketball fans figured this day was coming the moment Lonnie Walker IV stepped on campus last summer.
Walker, who led the Hurricanes in scoring as a freshman, announced early Wednesday evening that he is entering the NBA Draft and hiring an agent, forgoing his college eligibility after one season. He becomes the first player in UM history to go to the pros after freshman year.
Walker announced his decision on Twitter, as his teammates Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown did in recent weeks. Huell and Brown did not retain agents, so they can return to college basketball if they withdraw from the draft by June 11.
“The University of Miami exceeded by expectations,” Walker wrote on Twitter. “From school, sports, the environment and last but not least, the Canes fans. This city has welcomed me with open arms and supported me at my lowest of lows, but also my highest of highs.
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“I want to thank my family for the sacrifices they’ve made throughout the years. Without my family, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
“And now on April 4, 2018, I’m here making a decision that I thought would never come true. After reviewing my options with family and coaches, I’ve decided to enter the 2018 NBA Draft and will hire an agent.”
Walker, who is 6-4 and 200 pounds, had a slow start to his college career, but found his groove at the start of the conference season. He finished the season as the team’s leading scorer with 11.5 points per game, the first freshman to lead a UM team since Darius Rice.
Walker was named to the ACC All-Freshman team, the ACC All-Academic team, and was an honorable mention for All-ACC honors. He was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school.
He is projected as a possible lottery pick.
“My staff and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach Lonnie Walker this season,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “He’s an extremely mature and talented young man, both as a player and as a student. We have tremendous confidence in him and believe he is going to be a terrific NBA player. Whichever organization drafts him will have a gem on their hands. Lonnie’s size, athletic ability and skill make him an ideal shooting guard but with the strong potential to be able to play both the 1 and the 2 at the NBA level. He is as classy a young man as I’ve ever had the privilege to coach. We wish him nothing but the best. He will always be a part of our Miami family and program.”
Against Notre Dame, Walker went 5-of-7 from three-point range and scored 19 points. His triple from the left wing gave Miami a 65-62 lead it would never lose.
“Walker’s shots were pro stuff,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “He’s a first-round guy, my assistants told me, and he looked it. He made some money tonight.”
Larrañaga said he is not surprised three UM players have entered their names into the draft.
“In today’s culture, kids want to be one and done or two and done,” he said. “These kids have dreams and aspirations of their own and they follow their hearts. I have spoken to each player at length, and got feedback from the NBA underclass advisory council, but it is a decision each individual makes on his own, and we will support their decisions.”
The website NBADraft.net wrote: “Walker looks to be a prospect that fits better at the NBA level than he did at the collegiate level ... He has all of the physical tools needed to be a 3 and D guy and play a major role for an NBA team, but will have to learn to embrace that role ... He will likely need time to adjust to not having the ball in his hands ... He was more productive and a bigger part of the offense at Miami after Bruce Brown got injured, but will need to get more accustomed to picking and choosing his opportunities to attack offensively ... Long arms should allow him to develop into a pest defensively ... Has excellent body control, especially when attacking the basket.”
The Hurricanes finished 22-10 and lost to Final Four team Loyola-Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.