Gooden leaves Kansas for NBA

Saturday, April 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ If Drew Gooden stayed, Kansas most likely would have been No. 1 in the preseason polls next year with its strongest team in decades.

But he's leaving, giving up his senior season to enter the NBA draft.

``What made the decision so tough was how much fun I had playing this year for coach (Roy) Williams and my teammates,'' the 6-foot-10 All-American forward said Friday.

``That's what's going to be tough, knowing I'm giving up another year of my childhood, of being young, and a college year. It's very valuable to me, to be giving that up. But you have to make some decisions in your life.''

Gooden led the Big 12 in scoring (19.8) and rebounding (11.4). He figured he was ready for the NBA when he hit a stretch in January in which he scored 20 or more points in 8 of 10 games.

He made his final decision Monday after Williams told him what he learned from NBA teams.

``It was all very positive,'' Williams said. ``The general consensus is Drew would be in the top half of the lottery. There weren't any negative things whatsoever. It was one of those things, you're going to be rich or you're going to be real rich.''

Had Gooden come back, only one starter would be gone from the team that went 33-4 last season and lost to Maryland in the national semifinals. Williams urged fans to keep perspective.

``We talk so much around here about the Kansas basketball family,'' Williams said. ``How can you not be happy for somebody in your family realizing one of their dreams?''

``I am very sad I'm not going to coach Drew any more,'' he added. ``But that's it. I'm happy for him. I'm proud of him. He may have come as far as any player I've ever coached in three years. It's been a joy to coach him.''

Gooden said his game will need adjustment in the NBA.

``I'm not saying I'm ready to step on the court and average 20 and 10 right away like I left off in college,'' he said. ``I mean, that would be great. But I want to work hard every day and keep myself disciplined.''

He plans to return to Kansas and get his degree.

``I'll always be grateful and I will always be a Jayhawk in my heart,'' he said.

``Playing under Coach Williams, I learned a lot, starting from the first day I set foot on campus to the last game against Maryland,'' he said. ``A young boy turned into a young man.''