Auburn's Chuma Okeke Declares for 2019 NBA Draft After Suffering Torn ACL Injury

Megan ArmstrongCorrespondent IApril 20, 2019

Auburn's Chuma Okeke, right, drives past Tennessee's Admiral Schofield in the first half of the NCAA college basketball Southeastern Conference championship game Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Chuma Okeke's collegiate career came to an abrupt close when the Auburn sophomore forward tore his ACL during the Tigers' Sweet 16 victory over North Carolina on March 29.

On Saturday, Okeke opened a new chapter by declaring for the 2019 NBA draft through an Instagram post.

Having already suffered an ACL tear, it appears the 20-year-old isn't interested in further jeopardizing his professional future by staying at Auburn. Across two seasons as a Tiger, Okeke averaged 9.9 points, 6.3 total rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks.

His sophomore campaign in 2018-19 was his best, especially during Auburn's first Final Four run in men's program history.

In three 2018-19 NCAA tournament games, Okeke averaged 15 points and seven rebounds.

Before tumbling to the floor in excruciating pain from his non-contact knee injury, Okeke was Auburn's best player against North Carolina with a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds as well as two assists, two steals and a block.

Following Auburn's 97-80 triumph, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl broke down in tears discussing his 6'8", 230-pound player:

And following Okeke's announcement, the official Auburn website quoted Pearl speaking highly of the NBA prospect: "I've been doing this a long time, and Chuma is one of the most versatile players I've ever coached and impacts the game on both ends of the court. ... When he recovers from his injury, he will be better than ever."

Okeke had successful surgery to repair his knee on April 2, with the renowned Dr. James Andrews performing the procedure.

ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony noted Okeke is listed as the 41st-ranked prospect on the ESPN 100 and gave an assessment of the forward's upside:

"Despite the injury, he is intriguing to NBA teams due to his 7-foot-1 wingspan and defensive versatility, as 6-foot-8, 230-pounder regularly was tasked with slowing down guards and big men alike.

"His 3-point shooting ability and positive assist-to-turnover ratio gives him the ability to operate on the perimeter effectively thanks to his high basketball IQ. Several NBA teams told ESPN they are unlikely to be deterred by Okeke's injury due to his long-term potential and the likelihood of him making a full recovery."

Even though his final game at Auburn ended in disaster, his final stretch for the Tigers was his strongest basketball yet, as he scored in double figures in 15 of his last 17 contests and recorded 69 steals last season—the third-highest single-season total in program history, per Auburn.

The Tigers' historic season ended in the Final Four with a dramatic 63-62 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers, the eventual champions. Since that loss on April 6, junior guard Jared Harper also declared for the draft.

While senior guard Bryce Brown has yet to officially declare for the NBA draft, he did discuss his professional future with Sam Blum of AL.com in late March and noted he has his eyes set first on the NBA but remains open to playing overseas.

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