LAKELAND, FL—Just over a week after Rutgers men's basketball hired its new head coach in Steve Pikiell, Scarlet Knights fans received more major news on March 31 when star freshman point guard Corey Sanders announced his intention to declare for the 2016 NBA Draft.
Sanders made his announcement on his Twitter page. He took a moment to thank his fans, writing "I would like to thank Rutgers University and everyone who has supported me on my journey!"
Sanders also noted he will not be hiring an agent for the draft process.
The decision not to hire an agent is not a small detail. By declaring for the draft without bringing aboard an agent, Sanders retains his amateur status. He will be able to work out for interested NBA teams as well as participate in May's NBA Draft Combine.
However, unlike players who hire an agent, Sanders will have the option to withdraw his name from this year's draft and return to college. The deadline for withdrawal is May 25, ten days after the conclusion of the combine.
Essentially, Sanders will have a chance to gauge his interest from NBA teams over the next two months. If he is unsatisfied with his perceived draft stock or has second thoughts about turning pro, he can withdraw from the draft and return to Rutgers. He would be eligible to declare for the draft again after next season.
If Sanders does not withdraw by May 25, or if he hires an agent at any time, he will forfeit his college eligibility and will head to the draft.
Sanders would hope to be selected in the two-round NBA Draft in June, but if not, he could look to latch on with a team as an undrafted free agent, sign with an NBA developmental league team, or play professionally overseas. In any case, he would not be eligible to play for Rutgers or any collegiate program.
Sanders' play as a freshman was a rare bright spot for Rutgers during a season that saw the Scarlet Knights finish 1-17 in Big Ten action.
Despite serving a two-week suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, Sanders was still far and away Rutgers' most productive player last season. The Florida native led the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game.
Sanders also averaged 4.3 assists per game, and 1.8 steals per game in his rookie season at Rutgers.
According to NJ.com, the only other freshman in the nation to match or surpass those per-game averages was LSU's Ben Simmons, who is viewed as one of the top prospects in this year's draft class.
Sanders also added 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting 31.5% from three-point range.
Sanders was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice, and was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media after the season.
Beyond the stat sheet, Sanders displayed impressive athleticism as a freshman, regularly throwing down thunderous dunks and playing solid defense. He also made an incredible buzzer-beating shot against Illinois in February that earned him Top Play honors from ESPN's SportsCenter.
Sanders, a four-star recruit in high school, committed to Rutgers on September 4, 2014 after being heavily recruited by former head coach Eddie Jordan. It was a huge recruiting win for the recently fired Jordan, as Sanders was ranked the #32 recruit in the nation by ESPN that year.
It is unclear what impact, if any, the hiring of former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell had on Sanders' decision to declare for the draft.
With starting center Greg Lewis and guard Bishop Daniels set to graduate and Justin Goode reportedly transferring from the program, losing Sanders would be a big blow to the Scarlet Knights. Pikiell would likely be forced to rely on guard Mike Williams and forwards Jonathan Laurent and DeShawn Freeman for additional scoring next season.
If Sanders does not withdraw and is drafted in June's NBA Draft, he would be the first Scarlet Knight drafted since center Hamady N'Diaye was selected by the Timberwolves in the second round of the 2010 draft.