It wasn't easy for Luke Babbitt to leave the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball team.
"We talked for about two hours (on Tuesday morning) and it was very difficult for him," Wolf Pack coach David Carter said. "It was really kind of sad. There were times when I thought he was going to cry. He was very emotional. Luke loves Nevada and this community so it was a hard decision for him to make."
Babbitt announced Tuesday afternoon that he would indeed leave the Wolf Pack for the NBA draft.
"After a lot of praying, gathering information and talking to my family and coaches, I have made the decision to hire an agent and enter the 2010 NBA Draft," Babbitt said through a university press release. "The two years I have spent at Nevada and the 12 years I have spent living in the Reno community as a Wolf Pack fan have been unbelievable, yet I feel like now is the best time to move forward with my lifelong dream of playing professional basketball."
Babbitt, who will turn 21-years-old just four days before the June 24 NBA draft at New York's Madison Square Garden, was named the Western Athletic Conference's Player of the Year this year. He averaged 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds a game for the 21-13 Wolf Pack and will leave Nevada with 1,316 career points (12th all-time in school history).
"This was not an easy decision for me," said Babbitt in the press release. "I will always be grateful for the opportunities Nevada has given me. I loved being a part of this team and community, and I will continue to support the University and Coach Carter. I will greatly miss my teammates, coaches and our loyal fans, and I want to sincerely thank everyone for their support, both on and off the court. I hope that you will continue to root for me as I take this next step in my life."
Babbitt is the fourth starter to leave the Wolf Pack after last season. Seniors Brandon Fields and Joey Shaw are gone as well as junior Armon Johnson, who declared for the NBA draft 10 days ago. The Pack also lost senior sixth man Ray Kraemer.
"We are kind of starting over," said Carter, who will have just one (forward Dario Hunt) returning starter next year. Hunt is the only returning player who played at least 10 minutes a game last year.
Carter, though, said he wasn't surprised by Babbitt's decision.
"We really started preparing for this after the season ended," Carter said. "Luke was always very upfront with me and all our coaches. He told us right away that he was thinking about this and he just wanted to wait until he got the right advice. So we kind of knew this could happen."
Babbitt is the fifth Wolf Pack underclassman since 2004 to declare for the NBA draft after Kirk Snyder (2004), Ramon Sessions (2007), JaVale McGee (2008) and Johnson. Snyder, Sessions and Johnson left after their junior years while Babbitt joins McGee as the only sophomores to leave early.
Carter said Babbitt will likely be a first-round pick in June.
"I think that played a big part in the decision he made," Carter said. "I don't believe he would have left this year if he didn't feel he was pretty locked into the first round. I know the NBA people like him a lot."
Babbitt, who helped lead the Pack to a 42-26 record in his two seasons, leaves Nevada with his name all over the school's record book.
He set the Pack's single-season scoring record this year with 743 points, breaking Nick Fazekas 2005-06 record of 721. He also owns the freshman scoring record at 573 points as well as the single-season record for free throws made with 199, set this year. His .917 free throw percentage this year is a Pack record as is his .893 career free throw percentage.
The 2007 Galena High graduate also became the Wolf Pack's first men's basketball Academic All-America (named by ESPN The Magazine) and was a finalist (final 50) for the prestigious Wooden Award this year. He was the WAC Freshman of the Year and he made his final 34 free throws in a Pack uniform, another school record.
Babbitt, who owns the Nevada high school record for points scored (2,941) and led Galena to the 2007 Class 4A state title under coach Tom Maurer, was also recently named (along with Fazekas) to the WAC's All-Decade Team.
"The thing about Luke that people should remember is his competitiveness," Carter said. "He came to compete every single night."
Babbitt, who averaged 19.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in his college career, was a true workhorse for the Pack. The 6-foot-9 power forward never missed a game, starting all 68 games over the past two seasons. He also played 2,370 out of a possible 2,735 minutes (87%) over the last two years.
"He played every game like it was his last game," Carter said.