Baylor star freshman Keyonte George declares for NBA draft

Baylor freshman Keyonte George, a projected top-10 pick, will forgo his college eligibility and enter the 2023 NBA draft, he told ESPN on Tuesday.

"Playing for coach Scott Drew was a blessing," George said. "He's a coach that not only cares about you as a player but also outside of basketball. He prepared me in many ways, especially focusing on the little things. He knew I was talented and could score, but he helped lock in defensively, knowing rotations, where to be. Being at Baylor this past season, I feel like I was able to make a jump on that side of the ball."

George, the No. 9 prospect in ESPN's NBA draft projections, was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year and second-team All-Big 12 after averaging 15.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 29 minutes per game.

The highest-ranked recruit in Baylor history, as ESPN's No. 3 player in the class of 2022, he spearheaded the No. 2 offense in college basketball as a freshman, posting 20 points or more a dozen times this season, a program record.

"Being that main key guy definitely prepared me," George said. "It goes back to the preparation and the work that I put in individually, the things no one sees you do in the dark. It's not about my age. I took responsibility and knew I had to step up to the plate. There wasn't any pressure at all, because the same shots I hit in games are shots I hit 100 times in practice."

An ankle injury suffered six minutes into Baylor's game against Texas on Feb. 25 caused George to miss the next game and continued to hamper him for the rest of the season. Baylor lost three of their final four games, including in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, and in the NCAA tournament round of 32 to Creighton.

"I've never played with that much tape on my foot," George said. "It took some time to get used to. I'm starting to get my pop back now. For sure it limited me in some aspects of my game, but I wanted to be out there with my brothers. Missing one game made me realize the passion and love I have stepping away for even one second. That flipped my mindset to treat my body right and do everything necessary to do whatever I can to compete."

George's role at the NBA level looks relatively easy to project as a scoring guard with dynamic ability changing speeds out of ball screens, creativity finding teammates off a live dribble, and excellent footwork, body control and skill rising for jumpers from anywhere on the court.

George was one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the Big 12 already as a freshman and showed improvement as the season moved on with his decision-making and perimeter defense, areas NBA teams wanted to see growth from him this season.

"I don't really worry about I'll be picked -- I respect everyone that is trying to fulfill their dreams. I'm looking for fit, somewhere where I can learn and grow at the same time. It's important for me to be an all-around player and not just a scorer. I'm looking forward to showing NBA teams how tough I am and the savvy I carry myself with."

The NBA draft combine will be held May 15-21 in Chicago, and the draft will be June 22 in New York City.

Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and International teams.