COLUMBIA – It's official.
As many Missouri fans feared but expected, star point guard Jordan Clarkson will forgo his senior season and declare for the NBA draft. Clarkson, who spent one season at Missouri after transferring from Tulsa, announced his intentions in a letter to Tigers fans that the athletics department posted Monday on its website.
"It wasn't an easy decision," Clarkson wrote. "I have so much respect for everyone here, and the impact you have made on my life has been immense. However, it is a decision that I've thought through and discussed with my family on numerous occasions. Having their full support makes this decision much easier."
Now Missouri fans await word on junior shooting guard Jabari Brown, who averaged a Southeastern Conference-best 19.9 points this season. Brown is expected to make a decision on the draft as early as this week — and that decision will shape the outlook of next year's squad.
The Tigers, who faded down the stretch and missed out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, would be underdogs to make it back to the tourney if Brown were to follow Clarkson out the door. Clarkson, Brown and senior guard Earnest Ross scored more than 70 percent of the Tigers' points this season.
While Clarkson wasn't in Columbia very long, the San Antonio, Texas, native made an impact on a team starving for an additional ball-handler.
The 6-foot-5, 193-pound player showed off his dynamic scoring ability, averaging 17.5 points per game — seventh most in the SEC. A natural two-guard, Clarkson switched to point guard to replace Phil Pressey and earned a spot on the All-SEC Second Team.
At times he struggled with the demands of his new position, though.
Clarkson scored a career-high 31 points against Southern Illinois in early November and reached double-figures in scoring in 34 of 35 games this season, including a 28-point performance against Kentucky on Feb. 1.
But Clarkson struggled toward the end of the year, failing to reach 20 points in any of the Tigers' last nine games. He averaged just 11.5 points and six turnovers in the Tigers' two SEC tournament games.
And while he ranked seventh in the SEC with 3.4 assists per game, his playmaking struggles hurt the Tigers at times.
Missouri finished near the bottom nationally in assists and assists percentage as Clarkson, Brown and Ross formed an intimidating scoring trio but failed to get other Tigers considerably involved in the offense.
Neither Brown nor Clarkson is a surefire selection in June's two-round draft, and Ross is not considered a strong prospect.
Clarkson projects anywhere from a late first-round pick to a middle-second round pick, based on various online mock draft outlets (so, too, does Brown, if he elects to leave school). Draft analysts like Clarkson's size, athleticism and ability to score off penetration. His three-point-shooting, ball-handling and ability to drive with his left hand are all areas needing improvement for the next level.
Clarkson has not yet hired an agent, but he and his family are "in that process", according to a Missouri spokesman. If, for some reason, he does not hire an agent, Clarkson, who is on track to graduate in May, can still opt to return to school if he decides to do so before the June 16 draft withdrawal deadline. But that seems unlikely. The draft is on June 26.
Missouri coach Frank Haith stressed all year that if Clarkson and Brown were to leave early for the draft, he hoped that they received good information on their status and projections.
"A lot of kids don't get good information," Haith said after the Tigers' season-ending loss to Southern Mississippi in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament on March 23. "Both kids and their families will allow that to happen. And they will make decisions that is best for them and their families. Hopefully, we will be a part of that process."
On Monday, Haith supported Clarkson's decision while admitting he wishes it was a different one.
"Jordan is a young man we can all be proud of," Haith said in a press release. "He is set to graduate from Mizzou this spring and has embraced this university and this community. While I hate to see him go, I hope he knows he will always have a home here at Mizzou."
Three Missouri players have been selected in the past three drafts. Kim English (Detroit Pistons) and Marcus Denmon (San Antonio Spurs) were drafted in 2012, while Alex Oriakhi (Phoenix Suns) was taken after last season. Each was a second-round selection, and none has made much of an impact. English played in 41 games last year while Denmon and Oriakhi have yet to crack NBA rosters.
Pressey wasn't drafted last season but signed a free agent deal with the Boston Celtics. He is averaging 13.6 minutes per game in his rookie season.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.
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