Livingston says he'll hire agent

Updated: June 14, 2004, 10:57 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Shaun Livingston could have been the first player to test the NBA's and NCAA's 2-year-old high school exemption that allows prep players to be selected in the draft and still go to college.

If anyone was going to sacrifice millions of dollars for a year or two or three at college, it would have been Livingston.

If there were a school and a coach that could make it work with an NBA team, it would be Duke and Mike Krzyzewski.

But it's not going to happen.

The 6-7 point guard of Peoria Central (Ill.) High School officially cut all ties with Duke and the NCAA on Saturday afternoon in Chicago when he strolled into a ballroom at the Wyndham Hotel and announced that he would remain in the NBA draft ...

... and sign with an agent Monday or Tuesday ...

... and give up his amateur status because he's likely going to be selected among the top 10.

Just like that, the player penciled in as Chris Duhon's replacement at the point was erased from Duke's plans for the 2004-05 season.

The Duke coaches were holding out hope as late as Monday that Livingston still might come to school if a week of workouts in Chicago didn't go well.

But the workouts did go well. Too well for Duke to pry him away from a likely top 10 contract.

"I called coach K (Friday night) and told him I was keeping my name in the draft," said Livingston, who seemed to be confident in his decision and acted as if he had given this plenty of thought the past two months.

"It was a pretty tough decision," Livingston said. "The opportunity to play for Duke University is great, and that's the reason I chose the school.

"I told coach that I never committed to Duke thinking I wouldn't suit up for them," Livingston said. "His understanding with that helped me make my decision."

Of the eight high school seniors who could go in the first round, Livingston was the only one projected as a lottery pick who hadn't signed with an agent as of Saturday.

Guard Dorell Wright, out of South Kent Prep (Conn.) and Prentiss (Miss.) forward Al Jefferson don't have agents but also could be first-round picks. Wright signed with DePaul and doesn't have a guarantee in the first round. DePaul coaches were at the Moody Bible Institute earlier this week hoping to hear for themselves that he's a first-round bubble pick (they were also there to support outgoing senior Andre Brown's draft candidacy).

Arkansas' coaching staff is expecting Jefferson to stay in the draft but awaits official word that he will forgo his college eligibility.

The only other high school senior who hasn't signed with an agent is Robert Rothbart out of Natomas (Calif.) High. He signed with Indiana but hasn't played well enough in workouts to be deemed a draft pick, which means he could be in Bloomington in the fall. He wasn't invited to the pre-draft camp.

The deadline to withdraw is Thursday, one week before the NBA draft in New York.

High school seniors Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Robert Swift and Sebastian Telfair all signed with agents and are not eligible to play in college. All five are expected to go in the first round with Howard possibly No. 1.

Livingston isn't far behind, and there's a chance he could go second to the Clippers. That prospect made it impossible for him to delay the riches of being an NBA lottery pick. If he had been drafted and attended Duke, then the team that selected him would have owned his rights until a year after his college eligibility expired. He wouldn't earn a cent while playing at Duke.

"The workouts have affected my decision and seeing the results of the workouts and the improving I've been making on the court and off like gaining weight and muscle helped," Livingston said.

Livingston wasn't hiding behind the guise of a phony amateur situation the past month. While finishing high school, he took the bus from Peoria to Chicago every weekend to work out at Hoops the Gym with noted trainer Tim Grover. Grover said he could only advise Livingston, not work him out because he would have had to charge Livingston and potentially end his eligibility if he did any work pro bono.

Grover said Livingston paid to use the facility and stayed at a friend's place in the city. Livingston said his father picked him up on Sundays.

"I've got to be more serious now, and I'm looking forward to that," Livingston said. "(Grover) can be more of a hands-on coach now, and we can officially start doing things. That's going to help me improve on some weaknesses."

Livingston's decision to skip college wasn't a consensus in his family. He said his grandfather wanted him to go to Duke. But Livingston said his grandfather attended his workouts this week and saw how well he did and "as long as I have his support, then it's OK."

Krzyzewski hit Livingston with a full-court press in late April when he and an assistant met with the guard in Peoria. Livingston said Krzyzewski told him that there were necessary steps he had to take to get to the NBA.

They included going to Duke.

"He felt my best option was to come to Duke," Livingston said. "At the time I was still uncertain and unsure. I didn't know what I wanted to do."

Ironically, sitting behind Livingston Saturday afternoon was Duke freshman Luol Deng. They could have been teammates at Duke in the fall. Instead, they could go back-to-back in the draft to the Clippers and Chicago at Nos. 2 and 3, or Chicago and Charlotte, or even Charlotte and Washington (No. 5).

Deng's stock soared during his single season at Duke. It's hard to imagine Livingston's getting any higher. But he won't have the bond Deng shares with Duke, even though he spent less than a calendar year at the school.

Deng hesitated on his decision, too. He was originally going to work out at Duke while he decided whether to stay in the draft. Two weeks ago he opted to sign with an agent and will go on the road for workouts.

"He's in a good position going that high, but I know it was hard for him to turn down because I talked to him a lot about it," said Deng of Livingston. "My one year in college made my decision so tough. I love the college atmosphere and everything about it."

Deng said he feels he's a part of the Duke family now and likely forever. He said Livingston probably won't have that feeling after missing the "Duke atmosphere."

"The fact that everybody was supportive of my decision makes me feel more comfortable," Deng said. Deng scoffed any thought that the Blue Devils wouldn't be as good, even without him and Livingston. The Blue Devils are still a viable Final Four contender, but won't be a favorite without the two.

Of the remaining eight scholarship players, six have experience. Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing and Shavlik Randolph will likely be the productive core. The pressure will be on Sean Dockery, who will play point guard instead of Livingston.

"They're great players and they'll show it," Deng said. "The fact that everyone is saying that about them is going to give them even more fire (next season)."

They would have been even better with Livingston and Deng.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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