MEMPHIS, Tenn. — UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball announced Friday that he will enter the NBA draft.
“That was my final game for UCLA,” Ball said in the locker room after UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Kentucky. “I appreciate all the fans and all the support.”
Ball, the USA Today National Freshman of the Year, is expected to be a top-three pick in the draft after averaging 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds this season.
He had 10 points, eight assists and four turnovers in the Bruins’ 86-75 loss to the Wildcats on Friday.
“I didn’t make enough plays for my team,” Ball said. “Put that one on me.”
Ball, whose father previously guaranteed UCLA would win the national championship, said he did not view the season as a disappointment and emphasized the personal relationships he developed.
“This is a family, we’ll be together for life,” Ball said of the team. “The relationships I built – you can’t touch that.”
Coach Steve Alford, who said throughout the season he expected Ball to leave at the end of the year, said Friday’s game did nothing to change his opinion that Ball should be drafted first overall.
“I’ve said it from day one – in my mind, he’s the No. 1 draft pick,” said Alford after the game. “The way he can orchestrate a team is just phenomenal, so one night where things didn’t click I don’t think is going to change anything.”
Alford praised Ball for his coachability.
“He was just the absolute perfect individual to coach and you don’t see that a lot in the one-and-done era,” Alford said. “Never had a bad practice, never showed up just to put in time. He worked, he worked on his game, he watched film with us, he took care of his body.”
Throughout the second half of Friday’s loss, Ball appeared to be feeling discomfort in his right leg and he rubbed his hamstring while talking to the media afterwards. When asked whether he had injured his leg, he said only that he was “all right.” Alford said in his postgame press conference that Ball was healthy throughout the game.
Ball was stoic in the locker room after the game but said it hurts not to be able to play any more with his UCLA teammates.
“It’s tough we can’t play anymore,” Ball said. “It hasn’t hit me yet.”