USC basketball: Nikola Vucevic expected to announce that he'll test the NBA draft waters at 3 p.m. Friday
USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic is expected to announce at 3 p.m. Friday that he'll enter his name in the NBA draft, which doesn't yet mean that he'll leave school but does mean he's interested in "testing the waters" to get a better understanding of how high he could be taken in June's NBA draft.
Vucevic, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound Montenegro native, averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds this season and met with USC Coach Kevin O'Neill on Tuesday afternoon to discuss his future.
After that meeting, it seemed clear that Vucevic wanted to test the waters and see if he was a first-round draft pick, his ultimate factor in whether he'll ulimately leave school.
"If they say I'll be a first-round pick, it doesn't automatically make me leave," he pointed out to The Times recently.
If Vucevic enters his name in the draft, a group of about 20 NBA general managers and others will provide him a confidential evaluation of his NBA potential.
For that reason, O'Neill, who has a decade of coaching experience in the NBA, has said he is advising Vucevic to enter his name. O'Neill has also said he would soon call several NBA GMs to help Vucevic gather information.
The deadline to file is April 24. Vucevic is younger than 22, so under the NCAA's new rules he has until May 8 to withdraw his name from the NBA draft if he wants to maintain his college eligibility.
In prior years, that deadline was in mid-June, which gave the players nearly two months to make their decisions. Now, he has just 14 days.
Last year, a total of 103 players declared early, 80 of them college players, 23 of them international players. Forty eight players left the draft, leaving in 50 college players and five international players.
O'Neill has said that if Vucevic returns, USC would be "extremely good" next season and that Vucevic could be an All-American.
If Vucevic doesn't come back, O'Neill said, "We'll be about like this year."
The Trojans finished 19-15 overall and advanced to the first round of the NCAA tournament, where they lost to Virginia Commonwealth.
Vucevic is aided by the fact that, overall, this upcoming NBA draft is expected to have one of its weakest classes in years, making it possible that he's drafted higher than he would be in other years.
But one thing that hurts his draft stock is that he's played poorly in his last three games of the season, all of them tournament games in which numerous NBA scouts were in attendance.
He had only seven points in 27 minutes in USC's 70-56 win against California, 16 points and 12 rebounds in a 67-62 loss to Arizona, and then 11 points and 14 rebounds in USC's 59-46 loss to VCU.
Vucevic did post double-doubles in two of those games, but most of those points and rebounds came when the game was decided. In all, he was rather ineffective in the last three games because opposing defenses double-teamed him and completely took him out of the game.
O'Neill has said he's not spending a great deal of time trying to "recruit" Vucevic to come back to USC.
"Everybody says, ‘Recruit Nik back,' " O’Neill said recently in his office. "That would be insulting to Nik. I’m going to tell him facts. Nik's a smart guy. If I was to try to give him some schmoozy recruiting pitch, it ain’t going to work."
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: Nikola Vucevic. Credit: Greg Bartram / U.S. Presswire.