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Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Luke Babbitt's decision to leave wasn't easy

By Diamond Leung

Nevada forward Luke Babbitt got emotional cleaning out his locker last week. The decision to leave school after his sophomore season was so excruciating that he slept on it and waited until Tuesday to make a formal announcement.

That's what Tom Maurer, Babbitt's coach at Galena High in Reno, told me today. Maurer wouldn't reveal Babbitt's decision Monday because at that point, the 20-year-old star still could have changed his mind.

"He's way too nervous. He's way too uptight right now," Maurer said yesterday. "I can just read his body language. This is going to be the toughest decision in his life. If he goes to the NBA, that changes dramatically. If he comes back, he’s a hero.

"He's in turmoil with himself emotionally."

The 6-foot-9, 225-pounder, who won the WAC player of the year honors and showed off his polish by averaging 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, ultimately made a calculated business decision that he was ready to fulfill a lifelong goal and go pro.

"He’s always been very good about working out with different guys, playing on different AAU teams," said Aubrey McCreary, one of Babbitt's long-time, NBA-caliber trainers. "He’s always been good about exploring all the opportunities."

The decision wasn't made without careful consideration of a variety of factors. It was leaving behind the Reno community that was the toughest to take.

Not too long ago, Babbitt had decided that to stick with that comfort zone. As a highly-recruited high school kid who back then kept his hair short, Babbitt had to nervously call Ohio State coach Thad Matta to say he wouldn't be following through on his verbal commitment so he could stay closer to his family and build a hometown program with childhood friend and point guard Armon Johnson.

However, the closest he got to the NCAA tournament was as a freshman when Nevada fell in the WAC title game to Utah State. Now, with former Nevada coach Mark Fox long gone to Georgia and Johnson recently going out for the draft, Babbitt is taking off as well.

He leaves as the Wolf Pack's first All-American (honorable mention from the Associated Press) since Nick Fazekas and with the school record for most points in a single season.

The NBA likes Babbitt, according to ESPN Insider's Chad Ford Insider, who believes the skilled left-handed scorer is a likely first-round pick. The consensus, as Ford himself concedes, is that there really is no consensus on where Babbitt might be picked.

But those who know Babbitt, an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American, say the shy star sticks to listening to those within his tight inner circle. (No conformist, he once skipped out on prom with his girlfriend to play ball instead.) In recent days, Babbitt huddled up with family rather than let in any outside influences.

"Luke doesn’t buy into any of that," Maurer said. "He’s going to buy into his faith. He’ll buy self-reflection."

Finally, nearly a month after Nevada's season-ending loss in the NIT, the school sent out a press release Tuesday afternoon announcing Babbit's decision. It included a prepared statement from Babbitt who said he did a lot of praying and information gathering before coming to his decision.

A second press release sent out an hour later by the team spokeswoman said Babbitt would not be available to the media until "he has a chance to sign with an agent and get a few things squared away."

Weeks of turmoil, it appears, are finally coming to an end.