Bradley Beal will leave Florida, and has all the world before him.
Bradley Beal came to Florida with hype and comparisons to likely future NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen. Less than a year later, after the greatest season by a freshman in Florida basketball history, Beal will enter the 2012 NBA Draft, as he told Florida coach Billy Donovan, according to Chris Harry — and he is headed to the pros with his coach convinced that he will be Ray Allen.
"He’s not Ray Allen now," Donovan said. "But he will be."
Beal, who started all of the Gators' 37 games and averaged 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, seems to have been genuinely torn about the decision to leave.
"It’s my dream and it’s sitting right here in front of me," Beal told GatorZone. "God has put me in this situation and I have to take advantage of it. I think I’m ready to realize this dream, so now I have to go and pursue it."
"It was probably the toughest decision I ever had to make," Beal said. "Harder than choosing where I was going to play in college."
But Beal is projected as a top-five pick by most in the NBA Draft, and his return would have bolstered a team that could compete for a national championship in 2012-2012 — it's not the same as Joakim Noah turning down millions to anchor the defending champions.
Beal will likely go down as the most talented player Donovan has ever had the privilege of coaching: he's got marvelous instincts as a slasher and scorer, great size for his position, tremendous rebounding acumen for a guard, an above-average shot, and the sort of desire and fire in the belly — showcased late in Florida's season, when he scored 16.5 points per game, sank 46 percent of his threes, and averaged eight rebounds and nearly four assists per game in six games of postseason play — that makes him a future go-to option for an NBA team.
That profile, with all due respect to Donovan, suggests that Beal won't be Allen, the lethal scorer who was only rarely dominant, even at his peak. Instead, Beal could be the next Dwyane Wade.
I'd be remiss as a Florida fan to not say that I'll miss Beal dearly next season, and that I'm immensely proud to have seen his college career, largely in person, but I am also incredibly excited to see Beal take on his ultimate challenge: Fulfilling his staggering potential and becoming one of the best basketball players in the world.