Guard will skip senior season

Updated: April 20, 2005, 1:09 AM ET
Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Junior guard Deron Williams will skip his senior season at Illinois and enter the NBA draft.

Deron Williams
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWilliams (with ball) trumped Felton (left) and Paul.

Williams said Tuesday night that he has signed with an agent, which prevents him from returning to the Illini next season.

"It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA," Williams said. "I felt this was an opportunity I could not pass up."

The 6-foot-3 Williams, a third-team AP All-America known for his playmaking and defensive abilities, averaged 12.5 points per game this season as the Illini reached the national championship game, but he led the team with 264 assists, an average of almost seven per game. He was selected first-team All-Big Ten for the second consecutive season.

Against Arizona in the Chicago Regional final, Williams sparked Illinois' remarkable comeback from a 15-point deficit over the final 4 minutes of regulation. His 3-pointer sent the game into overtime and he hit two more, helping Illinois reach the Final Four with a 90-89 win.

The Illini were undefeated until their final game of the regular season and went into the NCAA tournament with a 37-1 record.

In their 72-57 national semifinal against Louisville, Williams held Cardinals guard Francisco Garcia to just four points, well off his 16-point average. The Illini lost the championship game 75-70 to North Carolina.

Illini coach Bruce Weber said feedback from NBA draft advisers indicated Williams has "a very strong chance to be a top 10 pick."

Williams said that was enough to persuade him to retain an agent, and he signed with Bob McClaren of Houston over the weekend.

"Once you sign with an agent, it's over, there's no coming back," Williams said. "I definitely wanted to be sure I was in the best position I could be and I found that out so I just decided to sign."

Williams said he plans to finish the semester at Illinois before moving to Houston in late May to work out in the final weeks before the draft.

Weber said Williams will be about 20 hours shy of getting his degree in sports management.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press