Auburn vs. Texas A&M men's basketball

Auburn's Isaac Okoro (23) dribbles the ball up the court during the Auburn vs. Texas A&M men's basketball game at Auburn Arena on March 4, 2020.

As expected, star Auburn freshman Isaac Okoro will enter his name into the NBA Draft, with his final decision still pending the evaluation that comes back to him through the process, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said Friday.

Okoro is often rated by analysts to be a lottery-level prospect for the NBA. That much isn’t new, but Friday in a teleconference held amid a sports world on pause, Pearl said for the first time, in an indirect way, that he expects Okoro to leave for the NBA and he expects to encourage him to do so.

Normally, players have the ability to sign up for the NBA Draft and work out and be part of interviews with teams making evaluations, but then still ultimately hold onto the ability to pull out of the draft before picks are made and go back to their college teams if the feedback they get from those evaluators points them in that direction.

“I think it makes sense for him to absolutely become draft eligible, which he is going to, and then go through the process. And if then the information comes back and it confirms the information we have right now — that he is going to indeed be a lottery pick — then he needs to stay in the draft,” Pearl explained. “But right now I know he’s going to make himself eligible but the decisions about the future are all still pending.”

Pearl said he expects his other scholarship players with eligibility remaining to return to the team, with Okoro and his high-level status as a pro prospect making him the outlier.

Okoro was Auburn’s second-leading scorer this past season and was widely considered the team’s best defender on his way to rolling up All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches.

Okoro was named second-team All-SEC by those coaches and was also named to both the All-Freshman team and the All-Defensive team.

Pearl said that Okoro loves Auburn and loved his time with Auburn this season. But he also pointed out that he expects this year’s draft class to not be as deep as next year’s draft class, giving Okoro the chance to be picked even higher, which is what Pearl ultimately wants for his player.

“One of the great joys of coaching him this year and recruiting him, is he just wanted to go to a place he can get better and have the opportunity to be put in a position to be successful and try to compete for championships,” Pearl said. “He’s lost six basketball games in two years: He didn’t lose at McEachern High School and he was 25-6 in his first year at Auburn. So we talked about the NBA during the recruiting process. I think most people, most experts would have probably thought it was going to take a couple years where he’d be in a position to be ready or in a position to be drafted, but we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about it because that’s just not who he is. As a result he played the game for joy, he played it to win championships, he played it to get better.”

Ultimately, Pearl hopes Okoro will sooner than later have the chance to do all that again in the NBA.

Pearl expects certain NBA Draft deadlines and evaluation opportunities to all get pushed back amid fears of spreading the coronavirus — so this process is on pause like the rest of the sporting world. For now, Pearl says he is in constant daily contact with Okoro along with his other players as they make the switch to online classes at Auburn for the rest of the semester.

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