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Arizona's Bennedict Mathurin declares for NBA Draft, is 'ready to take that step forward'

Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin celebrates after dropping a long-range 3-pointer against Stanford on March 3. Mathurin declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday.

Arizona sophomore Bennedict Mathurin made it official Wednesday, announcing on social media that he will enter the 2022 NBA Draft.

The Pac-12 Player of the Year and a consensus second-team all-American, Mathurin was widely expected to leave the Wildcats this spring because he’s a projected NBA lottery pick.

“I am a Wildcat and will be a Wildcat for life,” Mathurin posted, thanking teammates, fans and coaches Sean Miller and Tommy Lloyd in his declaration for the draft. “It has always been a dream of mine to play in the NBA and I am ready to take that step forward.”

Among those responding quickly to Mathurin’s post was UA center Christian Koloko, who has not yet announced whether he will also declare for the NBA Draft.

“Go be great brother,” Koloko said.

By all accounts, Mathurin will make an impact in the league right away.The Athletic (No. 6) and NBADraft.net (No. 7) both have Mathurin in the Top 10 of June’s NBA Draft, where rookies are slotted for guaranteed contracts worth at least $8 million over their first two seasons. ESPN projects Mathurin will go No. 12; the Ringer has him at No. 11.

By the time Mathurin picked up the Pac-12 Player of the Year award and exploded for 30 points against TCU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, that sort of lofty potential had become obvious.

Mathurin is “going to get drafted so high that they’re going to start him,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said before the Cougars beat the Wildcats in the Sweet 16, to which UA coach Tommy Lloyd later responded, “I’ll let his coach make that decision next year.”

A native of Montreal who attended the NBA’s Global Academy Latin America, Mathurin came off the bench for his first 12 games as a freshman in 2020-21 and exploded upon receiving his first start, scoring 31 points at eventual Elite Eight participant Oregon State.

As the Pac-12 Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2021-22, Mathurin led the Wildcats in scoring with an average of 17.7 points a game while shooting 45.0% overall from the field and 36.9% from 3-point range.

The Wildcats are still expected to return the bulk of the team that went 33-4 and earned a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed last season, though Mathurin was a go-to player who was often at his best when the Wildcats needed him most. Mathurin scored 30 points in Arizona’s 77-73 win at Illinois on Dec. 11 and also in the Wildcats’ 85-80 overtime win against TCU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Benn’s not afraid of the moment,” Lloyd said after the TCU game. “He’s a special player who has an ability to rise it up another level when needed, and he has that clutch gene.

In a mock NBA Draft posted just before the Final Four, The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie wrote that Mathurin’s performance against TCU “was arguably the best any single player has played so far in the event,” even though he subsequently struggled against Houston in the Sweet 16.

“His ability to make reads after driving was a critical improvement and bodes well for the next level,” Vecenie wrote. “Mathurin’s real concern comes on defense, where he can drift in and out in terms of focus.”

Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin attempts to reverse in a layup around Houston Cougars center Josh Carlton during the second half of their Sweet 16 game last month.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor said Mathurin is a dynamic offensive player who has shown impressive defensive flashes.

“Fans will love watching him run the break,” O’Connor wrote. “He’s always ready to run ahead of the defense, eager to turn stops into points. He can drain 3s or throw down explosive dunks when he has space to launch.

“Defensive consistency is his biggest issue right now. He has lockdown moments, but lacks proper footwork on simple stuff like closeouts. He’s slow to fight over on-ball screens. And he fouls way too often as a result of his overaggression and improper positioning. Sometimes, he just doesn’t put as much energy into defense as he should.”

Arizona is certain to lose only one other player, super senior guard Justin Kier, while neither Koloko nor guard Dalen Terry have indicated if they will join Mathurin in the draft pool.

ESPN projected Koloko to be drafted early in the second round at No. 35 and Terry at 43. Both The Athletic (29) and Ringer (24) project Koloko to be taken late in the first round, where players get guaranteed contracts starting at $3.7 million for two years.

While Terry has multiple name, image and likeness deals to profit from if he remains at Arizona, Koloko and Mathurin are mostly ineligible for NIL activity because of visa restrictions on employment for international students. Mathurin is from Canada and Koloko is a native of Cameroon.

Mathurin will leave the Wildcats with his name headed for the school’s Ring of Honor, a banner for which he qualified by winning the Pac-12 Player of the Year award.

Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at 573-4146 or bpascoe@tucson.com. On Twitter @brucepascoe

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