On Wednesday, junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. announced that he plans to join sophomore point guard Trey Burke in entering the 2013 NBA Draft by forgoing his final year of eligibility.
In a decision he reached Tuesday — one he said “felt good to just get off my shoulders” — Hardaway emphasized that either decision had its obvious advantages.
“It was tough to make that decision because you have a chance to come back for your senior year and have a chance to do something special,” Hardaway said. “It was a win-win situation in my eyes, I just tried to go with what my gut was feeling and where my heart was at.”
Ultimately, he couldn’t pass up on the dream he’s had since he was a child when he used to watch his father, Tim Hardaway Sr., a former NBA All-Star.
“He knows what’s in front of him better than anybody, probably, what’s in front of him, and he’s ready for it,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.
Draftexpress.com, one of the most credible pre-draft player ranker, tabbed Hardaway as its No. 58 prospect, which would place him near the tail-end of the 60-pick NBA Draft.
With Burke out next year, Hardaway would’ve had a chance to reassume the role of Michigan’s top scoring threat, which he had as a freshman. But increasing his draft stock could’ve been difficult. NBA teams, especially those picking outside the top of the first round, are known for drafting based on potential. Hardaway has played three years averaging more than 30 minutes per game meaning NBA teams have an idea of his ceiling.
Assistant coach LaVall Jordan, who said he expects to receive calls from NBA scouts and team officials inquiring about Hardaway, said he’d fully endorse his player.
“You come to college to be able to be able to live your dream one day,” Jordan said. “I believe in Tim Hardaway. There’s a reason we’ve won 76 games since he’s been here.
“Tim’s got one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen. He prepares as well as anyone I’ve ever coached.”
Hardaway said he sought the advice of his father — an NBA scout for the Miami Heat — as well as Burke and former teammate Darius Morris, who left after his sophomore season when Hardaway was a freshman.
But the Miami native didn’t pay much attention to the draft projections, most of which tab him as a late second rounder.
“All the projections, they do mean something, but … I’m ready, I’m ready to go and I feel ready,” Hardaway said. “I’m positive about myself and very, very confident about myself.
“I believe I’m going in the first round. I believe in myself, I’m going in the first round in my mind and … it was my decision, it wasn’t nobody else’s decision. I feel like I made the right one.”
Hardaway’s three seasons in Ann Arbor were each hindered by shooting inconsistencies, including a 30.1-percent clip from the field in his final four games of this year’s NCAA Tournament. But the junior made stark improvements in other areas of his game over this year. While his scoring dropped slightly this season, his assist, rebound and shooting numbers improved upon his sophomore campaign. And while it doesn’t show up in the stat book, Hardaway transformed from a defensive liability into a solid perimeter defender, often taking the responsibility for guarding the opposition’s top offensive guard or wing.
“There are several times we won games because we said, ‘Okay Tim, you’ve got that guy now,’ ” Beilein said. “I feel he’s ready if he feels he’s ready because you can’t — the one mistake we never want to make is a kid coming back here wishing he was playing somewhere else. With everything that Michigan gives to young men, the NBA is very attractive him.”
Hardaway is the fourth player in Beilein’s tenure to depart Michigan early in favor of the NBA — following Burke earlier this week, Darius Morris in 2011 and Manny Harris in 2010 — though that list could grow pending decisions by freshmen forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinsonn III, whose futures are still uncertain.
Beilein said that because of the current college basketball landscape, he’s no longer surprised by early departures.
“We want what’s best for the young men through and through,” Beilein said. “What we have to do is always be prepared for this, and I think we are.”
Hardaway’s starting position will likely be filled by incoming freshman Zak Irvin, a 6-foot-6 guard. Irvin was recently named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and given a fifth star by Rivals.com, who labeled him as the nation’s No. 24 recruit.
Irivin’s stature closely resembles Hardaway’s, though he may be a more capable ball handler.
“We like our options,” Beilein said. “I think we can be very flexible in a lot of different ways.
“You can put him anywhere out on the court, probably one through four. … We like that flexibility being able to do that.”
But while the Wolverines can turn to talent both from their bench and recruiting class, a glaring leadership has emerged for what will be an even younger team than this year’s, which was already one of the nation’s youngest. Michigan loses its five seniors to graduation, including captain Josh Bartelstein, in addition to its two other captains, Burke and Hardaway.
Hardaway seemed to be caught off guard when asked who would fill the leadership role, as he paused, shook his head and then laughed, as if to say, ‘That’s a good question.’
“I don’t know, I guess Jordan Morgan,” Hardaway said. “He’s very, very smart and very capable of being that guy, him and Jon Horford.”
But assistant coach Bacari Alexander took a firmer, more confident approach to his vision for the team’s leadership.
“In the departure of other players, whether it’d be the concerns that people had two years ago of, ‘How do you replace a Zack Novak and Stu Douglass,’ then you fast forward, ‘How do you replace a Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke,’ but you know, guys like Jordan Morgan and guys like Jon Horford are chomping at the bit to get that opportunity,” Alexander said. “When you have guys like Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan that have been through the battles and the wars, they tend to rise naturally to that role.”
Hardaway, like Burke, promised Beilein that along with staying in school for the remainder of this semester, he’d return at some point to graduate. Beilein said that both players are “in great academic standing.”