Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, left, and Nick Johnson laugh during press conferences at the NCAA West Regionals in Anaheim, Calif., on Friday, March 28, 2014.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Freshman forward Aaron Gordon and junior guard Nick Johnson will leave the Arizona Wildcats early for the NBA, the players confirmed at a news conference today at McKale Center.

However, freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski will return, UA coach Sean Miller said.

"I wholeheartedly support Nick for being here three years and Aaron for being here for one," Miller said. "The only thing I will tell you is it's bittersweet because these two guys -- people like them don't come along very often."

Gordon said the thought of returning to UA and having a chance to win a national championship was "huge," but decided to make a decision based on his professional future.

"Arizona is going to be successful with or without me," Gordon said. "That's just the nature of the program."

Miller said both players went through an extensive decision-making process with their families, and received an official report from the NBA's advisory committee last Friday.

Gordon is projected as a lottery pick in the June NBA draft. Draft Express has Gordon as the No. 8 overall pick in its 2014 mock draft, a slot that would earn him about $5 million guaranteed over his first two seasons under the NBA’s rookie salary scale.

Meanwhile, Johnson is projected as a second-round pick who might elevate himself into the first round. Miller said during last season that leaving to become a second-round pick would be a significant setback but said today that Johnson received enough positive feedback to suggest that leaving is a good decision.

"Generally if someone leaves early you want them to be a first-round pick," Miller said. "Learning a lot from the feedback we got on Nick, looking at how physically developed he is... there’s a chance he comes back for that fourth year and maybe not be as coveted.

"Nick knows (his prospects). He is not in La-La land."

While Tarczewski said his decision to stay was based on having "unfinished business" after UA lost in the Elite Eight of last season's NCAA tournament, Hollis-Jefferson said he stayed in part because his goal was to be a Top 10 NBA pick.

Hollis-Jefferson was projected as a first-round pick if he left now but could rise into the lottery of the 2015 draft with improvement next season.

"My goal my whole life was to be a top 10 pick, and I believe I can do so," Hollis-Jefferson said. "I think I'll put on about 10 more pounds of muscle and work on my jump shot and just become more of a leader. I think I can do that."

Miller said he did not expect any transfers out of the UA program this spring. With Gordon and Johnson leaving, the Wildcats will be at exactly the scholarship maximum of 13 players once Serbian center Dusan Ristic signs his letter-of-intent during the spring signing period that begins Wednesday.


Sportswriter for the Arizona Daily Star covering Arizona Wildcats basketball