New rules put into place this season to help college underclassmen make a more-informed decision about their NBA chances without giving up their eligibility could benefit the LSU basketball team right away.
Guard Antonio Blakeney, a member of the Southeastern Conference’s All-Freshman team picked by the league’s coaches, announced Friday he will put his name into the NBA draft.
In doing so, Blakeney said he will not hire an agent in order protect his NCAA eligibility for a possible return to the Tigers’ program for his sophomore season — the first LSU player to take that route to a possible pro career.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank God, my family, my coaches and teammates,” Blakeney said in a statement issued by the school. “I’ve learned some valuable lessons during my freshman year. I’m excited about my future in basketball and look forward to improving on and off the court each day.”
Teammates Ben Simmons and Tim Quarterman both announced they would declare for the NBA draft shortly after LSU’s season ended, but they withdrew from school and hired representation — ending their Tigers’ careers.
With the decision to explore his options without hiring an agent, Blakeney can obtain information from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee and then weigh his prospects for the June 23 draft.
The immediate goal for Blakeney, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Sarasota, Florida, would be to get an invitation to the NBA combine workouts to be held May 11-15 in Chicago.
If he isn’t included when the combine invites are given out, Blakeney, a McDonald’s All-American and the Florida Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior, would probably be advised to return to school.
LSU coach Johnny Jones said Monday that he wouldn’t be surprised if Blakeney submitted his name for the draft.
Blakeney was listed as a potential first-round pick in June by NBADraft.net after coming to LSU as a five-star prospect. He was ranked as high as the No. 14 recruit in the nation.
Blakeney came on strong in the final six weeks of the season.
He averaged 12.6 points per game after scoring in double digits in 14 of the Tigers’ final 18 games — pumping in 20 or more points in six of those contests with 32 points in a win over Florida and 31 against Mississippi State.
In starting 24 of LSU’s 33 games, he averaged 3.4 rebounds a game, connected for 52 3-point field goals and shot 74.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Blakeney said after consulting with his mother and members of the LSU coaching staff that he decided to see what the advisory committee will have to say.
“I’ve decided to enter my name into the 2016 NBA draft with the hopes of pursuing my dream of playing the game I love with the best in the world,” he said. “I will not hire an agent to keep my NCAA eligibility intact. I love all the fans at LSU and would love for their support through this process.”
The deadline for declaring for the draft is April 24 and underclassmen who put their names in have until 10 days after the combine ends — May 25 — to withdraw and return to school.
“With the new rules that are in place, it will give Antonio an opportunity that wasn’t available to players in recent years,” Jones said in the statement. “We are glad that he will take full advantage of these changes and we are very supportive of his decision.”
Advocate sportswrtier Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.