COLUMBIA — Phil Pressey will be chasing his NBA dream next fall, after all.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
After weeks of speculation surrounding the possibility of Pressey taking the professional plunge after his junior season, he made it official Wednesday when he announced that he has hired an agent and declared for the 2013 NBA Draft.
“I feel the positives outweigh the negatives,” said Pressey, a 5-foot-11 point guard. “Whenever you’re making a decision like this you’re going to have people telling you that you should or shouldn’t do it. But at the end of the day it’s my decision and I talked to enough people to feel confident with my decision.”
Players who declare have until April 16 to withdraw and retain their NCAA eligibility, but Pressey’s decision to hire Creative Artists Agency effectively shut the door on a possible return to Missouri, where he endured a roller-coaster junior season marked by spectacular highs and disappointing lows.
“I’m firm with my decision and I’m just ready to get things underway and start preparing,” Pressey said. “It’s not really a ‘testing-the-water’ situation for me. I know my decision, I’m ready.”
Pressey carried a greater offensive burden after the graduation of Marcus Denmon and Kim English and the December transfer of star guard Michael Dixon Jr. Pressey responded by posting career highs in points (11.9) and assists (7.1) and helped the Tigers to a 23-11 record and a NCAA Tournament appearance. He also was chosen first-team All-SEC and became MU’s career assists leader with 580.
But his play was also marked by bouts of inconsistency, as he averaged a career-high 3.5 turnovers per game and made late-game miscues — either poor shots or turnovers — that drew criticism in several road losses. He also posted career-lows in field-goal percentage (37.6) and three-point percentage (32.4) while taking the most shots of his career.
Still, Missouri coach Frank Haith expressed faith that Pressey — whose father, Paul, is an assistant for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers — is making the right decision.
“I think with his family, their involvement, they had a really good grasp on getting Phil the information they thought was important for him to make this decision,” said Haith, who said he also relayed information to Pressey.
Pressey is currently projected as a possible second-round pick by ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford, who lists Pressey 81st among his top 100 draft prospects. But Pressey said he isn’t fazed by speculation.
“At the end of the day, it’s about getting better and improving your stock as much as possible,” said Pressey, who added that the criticism he received from fans this season did not play a part in his decision to leave MU. “You really can’t (worry) about what people say, because from what I recall there’s a lot of guys (that are) promised to go in the first round that end up going undrafted.”
Pressey was also asked what he would do if the worst-case scenario — going undrafted — came to fruition.
“You have to be ready for that, but I just think I’m ready,” Pressey said. “I’ve been working my tail off. What I put into this game, I should be rewarded for it. I feel like (the more) I can go out and work, the more things are going to go my way.”
Pressey said he feels he has a lot to offer NBA teams. While his shot selection, decision-making and defense were erratic at times this season, few doubt his court vision, athleticism and overall playmaking ability, which he displayed during a solid sophomore campaign in which he deferred to veteran teammates.
“I feel like I have a special skill — I make guys around me better,” Pressey said. “I feel like that skill alone should be good enough. Other things I can do, I can push the tempo and control the game. As the next couple weeks go on, I can work on the things I need to work on. But that skill of making people around me better is hard to find, and I feel like that will translate.”
Haith agreed, and painted a clear picture of Pressey’s strengths and weaknesses as he prepares for the June 27 draft.
“His speed definitely gives him a chance in that league right away,” Haith said. “Getting in the lane and playing in an uptempo system, I think he’s going to be very good. Phil is one of the best passers I’ve ever been around, he sees things happening that others don’t see. That’s his biggest strength and that will be his calling card when given a chance to play in the NBA.
“The things he’s got to continue to work on, obviously, are his ability to finish. When you’re a little guy, you’ve still got to be able to finish around the hoop. And his ability to make jump shots … that’s something he’s got to put in some time (to do), and I think he will be able to do that.”
Pressey’s decision will leave Missouri with only one returning starter next season, sophomore Jabari Brown. But senior guard Earnest Ross, the team’s sixth man who also started several games, will be back, and Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson — a combo guard who averaged 16.5 points per game in 2011-12 — will be eligible after sitting out this season because of NCAA rules.
Clarkson and four-star freshman Wes Clark, a 6-foot point guard from Romulus, Mich., will likely assume ball-handling duties in Pressey’s absence.
MU has four guards set to be on the roster next season but also has three scholarships available.
“This is something Phil and his family really looked at strongly, so we’ve been prepared about how we’ve gone about recruiting, knowing that this could happen,” Haith said. “We’ve got two legitimate ballhandlers (in Clark and Clarkson) and we may even take another one.”
In the meantime, Pressey — who said he will begin working out for the draft next Thursday as he prepares for the combine — will take his first major step toward fulfilling a lifelong dream. But first he expressed fondness for the time he spent at Missouri.
“Some of the guys I played with, like Jabari, Earnest, Jordan Clarkson and the freshmen I played with this past year, I love those guys like brothers,” Pressey said. “And the coaching staff, I love them.
“The University of Missouri as a whole, I’m going to be leaving something I’ve grown to love. I call this my home. I spent the best three years of my life here. I just feel like this is the best decision for me … (but) I’m going to miss the school and what it offers. It’s bittersweet.”