After a junior year in which he became an All-America player but fell short of the Final Four once again, Paul Pierce has decided against one more shot at a national championship.
The Kansas star announced Thursday in California that he'll declare for the NBA draft rather than return for his senior year with the Jayhawks."Being in the Final Four was a dream of mine growing up, and I was unable to fulfill that dream, but I feel like I had a great college career and won a lot of games," Pierce said at a news conference at Inglewood High, where he starred before coach Roy Williams recruited him for Kansas.
Led by Pierce and senior Raef LaFrentz, another Associated Press first-team All-America, the Jayhawks won a second straight Big 12 championship this season and ran their homecourt winning streak to 60.
But once again their hopes for returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1993 were crushed by an unexpected early departure from the NCAA tournament. This time, it was Rhode Island that stunned the top-seeded Jayhawks in the Midwest Regional. A year ago, eventual national champion Arizona derailed a Kansas team that was ranked No. 1 much of the season.
Now, Williams faces a season without his three top scorers - Pierce, LaFrentz and senior sharpshooter Billy Thomas.
And while acknowledging that Pierce's early departure will hurt, Williams joined him and his family at Thursday's news conference, strongly supportive of his turning pro.
"I think it was the right decision, and I think he feels comfortable with it, and I told him not to look back," the coach said.
"I would like to coach Paul Pierce another 10 years, but the fact is that we only had one more year anyway," Williams said. "We knew it was a a great possibility, and I encouraged him by saying, `You are ready."'