Arizona athletes

Markkanen says goodbye to Arizona, next stop the NBA

The Finnisher is officially finished … at Arizona.

After a year that was spectacular at times and not so much in others — but still good enough to draw lots of attention from the NBA — Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen announced Thursday morning he has declared for the NBA.

“It’s been an unbelievable year and I’ve had so much fun,” he said. “It’s been incredible but playing in the NBA has been a dream of mine.”

Lauri Markkanen and Sean Miller talk about Lauri’s decision to declare for the NBA.

It’s not that it wasn’t expected, although he said he didn’t make his decision until UA returned to Tucson after it was eliminated from the NCAA tournament last week. Still, it has been known that there was a good possibility this would happen in mid-January when he was all but carrying the team offensively, hitting 3-pointer after 3-pointer. He finished averaging 15.6 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. He was a first team all-Pac-12 selection and a third team Associated Press All-American.

“His season speaks for itself,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller, who gave his blessing for the decision. Miller said he knew early on the thought of Markkanen heading to the NBA might be a possibility given how he played in the early months. And he has some things that are great intangibles: a 7-footer who can shoot the 3-pointer and can handle the ball. He’s become a better defender and can rebound.

“He’s a special, special player and even a better kid,” Miller said.

He plans on finishing the school year and then he’ll head back to Finland to relax and then prepare for June’s draft.

Markkanen becomes yet another player to leave early to the NBA in the last few years, joining Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon, Derrick Williams and Grant Jerrett to leave early for their chance at the NBA. There could be more with the decisions of Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons still not made public. Miller declined to say what their status is but said all the cases are different and each player will be handled on their own.

Markkanen said he’s excited to see what’s ahead but understands it’s “going to be a big challenge for me but I think I’m ready to go and do my best.” projects Markkanen to go in the lottery at No. 8 to Minnesota, although no order of the draft has been established yet.

Miller called it a “bitter-sweet moment” because he is leaving and “it feels like he just got here.”

Miller said the two have had great communication with the Markkanen family, his coach in Finland and everyone involved so “when a decision like this is made it’s made for the right reasons and for a bright future. I 100 percent support the decision.”

Miller added: “I don’t know if I have ever coached a player who has given more of himself or cared about the University of Arizona, his teammates, our team or the program than this guy right here.”

How has Tucson impacted Markkanen (last week he said it was very hot, surprising hot, because his homeland is very cold)?

“I think I got better at small talk. I’m more shy,” he said. “But I enjoyed the year and got to know the coaching staff and teammates.”

With that, he was gone. Finnished.

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