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Florida’s Scottie Lewis declares for 2021 NBA Draft, will hire agent

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The former five-star bid farewell to Gator Nation in an Instagram post.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Virginia Tech at Florida Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators wing Scottie Lewis will hire an agent and enter the 2021 NBA Draft, he announced Thursday with a post originally shared on Instagram.

Lewis came to Gainesville as a consensus top-10 recruit and a potential lottery pick in 2019, but two seasons of uneven offense have left him as a player who will need to impress scouts if he is going to be drafted at all.

Lewis possesses astonishing athleticism — as fleet of foot as any Gator ever, and blessed with spring-loaded legs, Lewis also went viral multiple times for showing off his flexibility by performing a kip-up when rising from the floor — and is regarded as a very good defender, but his inability to become a great defender is unlikely to hurt his NBA Draft stock as much as those offensive struggles will.

And those struggles are significant. Lewis scored 8.5 points on 6.3 field goal attempts per game as a freshman, but saw those numbers dip as a sophomore — to 7.9 points and 6.1 shots — despite what would have seemed to be a clearer path to minutes and a larger share of Florida’s offensive load, especially after Keyontae Johnson’s season-ending collapse in December.

Yet Lewis actually played fewer minutes per game as a sophomore, and started just nine times — and though that usage by Mike White was questioned, he also regressed as a shooter, making just 32 percent of his threes and 67 percent of his free throws after posting marks of 36 and 82 percent in those categories, but persisted in taking jumpers, with two-point jumpers accounting for 32.8 percent of his shot diet in 2020-21 according to hoop-math.com, compared to the 31.1 percent of his shots that came at the rim.

Tellingly, he was much better when driving and slashing: Lewis posted an excellent 73.0 percent mark on shots at the rim, best among any Gator with more than 50 field goals attempted on the year, but a woeful 28.2 percent mark on two-point jumpers, worst among Florida players who took 50 or more shots.

And when Lewis committed to driving and finishing — as he notably did in scoring 15 points against Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament — it seemed to kick-start his offense. When he didn’t, as in a scoreless performance just two days later against Oral Roberts, he gave Florida precious little punch on that end of the floor.

Lewis is not listed in ESPN’s current top 100 of 2021 NBA Draft prospects, which is indicative of the ground he’ll have to make up if he’s going to be drafted. And it seems, from the tenor of his emotional message bidding farewell to his teammates and coaches, Gainesville, and Gator Nation and the mention of hiring an agent, like he’s resolute in wanting to head to the professional ranks, rather than possibly returning to school after a second straight year entering the pre-Draft process.

If so, he’s very much going to be taking the uphill road to his professional basketball career.

But Lewis is an immensely likeable and thoughtful young man, one who spent much of last summer organizing marches for social justice in the wake of multiple killings of Black Americans at the hands of police and whose candid commentary on being a Black man in America was worthy of attention even before he kneeled during the national anthem prior to some Florida games this season.

It is very hard, as a Florida fan, not to root for Scottie Lewis — you have to go out of your way to even want to do so, essentially, and why you’d do that is questionable.

But that makes it equally hard to see a player with mammoth potential choose a path to his ultimate goal that may be more difficult than it needs to be.