Brad Beal enters 2012 NBA Draft

After putting together one of the most productive freshman seasons in Florida basketball history and helping guide the Gators to a second consecutive Elite Eight berth, guard Brad Beal has decided to leave school early to enter the 2012 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-3, 207-pound guard announced his intentions to turn pro end enter the draft on June 28.

“It was the right time for me,” Beal said. “When it came down to it, I just wanted to make sure I was comfortable telling coach, comfortable with my decision. Making this decision was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life.”

As a freshman, Beal led the team in rebounding, averaging 6.7 per game on a team-high 34.2 minutes per game. He also finished second on the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game, while adding 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.

Beal was named to the All-Freshman SEC team for his play during the season and is projected by many analysts as a Top 5 NBA pick.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said Beal is one the most mature, coachable players he has ever worked with. Once NBA scouts see that, he said he could shoot up the draft boards.

“He has all the intangibles to be a great, great pro and to play a long, long time,” Donovan said. “There’s a definite, realistic possibility that he will be a Top 5 pick. Once these NBA people get a chance to know what I know, that’s a very real possibility.”

ESPN’s Chad Ford lists him as the third-best player in this year’s draft, while ranks Beal as the fifth-best overall prospect.

He is projected as a shooting guard in the NBA, but Beal played primarily as a small forward in his first season with the Gators.

“Selfishly, I’m going to miss not having the chance to coach him,” Donovan said. “But there’s no question based on the information I was able to gather, the stuff he was able to get that he’s going to go in the Top 10, that he’s going to go in the lottery.”

Florida has not yet signed a small forward in its 2012 class, though Florida is still in the mix for 2012 Findlay Prep combo forward Anthony Bennett.

Bennett has strong interest in the Gators and will begin making college visits soon. Kentucky is also vying for his services, along with UNLV, Oregon and Washington. Bennett recently visited Oregon, but most consider Florida the leader.

The Gators are also expected to land a commitment from small forward DeVon Walker, a 6-foot-6, 187-pound small forward from Winter Haven. Walker is set to decide between Florida and Alabama at 1:15 p.m. today.