Illini basketball player Pruitt pulls out of draft

Senior+center+Shaun+Pruitt+drives+toward+the+lane+in+a+Jan.+30+game+versus+Michigan+State+at+Assembly+Hall.+Pruitt+withdrew+his+name+from+the+pool+of+early+entrants+for+the+NBA+draft+on+Sunday%2C+electing+to+return+for+his+senior+season+at+Illinois.+Steve+Contorno%0A

Senior center Shaun Pruitt drives toward the lane in a Jan. 30 game versus Michigan State at Assembly Hall. Pruitt withdrew his name from the pool of early entrants for the NBA draft on Sunday, electing to return for his senior season at Illinois. Steve Contorno

By Steve Contorno

Illinois men’s basketball player Shaun Pruitt withdrew his name from the NBA draft on Sunday. The 6-foot-10 center, who had until Monday to remove himself from the draft because he did not sign with an agent, will return for his senior season.

“I have decided to withdraw my name from the 2007 NBA draft and return to the University of Illinois to complete my senior year,” Pruitt said in a statement released Sunday. “Since entering my name in the NBA draft last month, I have had a very intense and exciting spring. I’ve had the opportunity to test my skills and abilities against several draft eligible players from across the country and overseas. I’ve also learned a lot about the game of basketball on the next level.”

He declared for the draft on April 24th.

Pruitt is the only Illini to start every game the past two seasons, a feat especially impressive during the injury-plagued campaign of 2006-07. A native of Aurora, Ill., Pruitt tallied 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season.

A strong conference season boosted Pruitt into the upper tier of Big Ten centers, leading the team in field-goal percentage (.529) and finishing in the top five in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage and total rebounds, offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds during conference play. Pruitt’s nine double-doubles ranked second in the Big Ten. He was also named to the All-Big Ten Third Team.

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One of Pruitt’s most impressive games came against Indiana, when he scored 18 points in a key overtime victory. The win came in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament and was important in solidifying the Illini’s spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Pruitt’s maturity as a player was evident during his performance. After missing an initial shot, Pruitt got his own rebound and, amid several Indiana defenders, put up three more attempts before sinking his fourth attempt to give Illinois a three-point lead in overtime.

When Pruitt originally declared his intention to enter the draft, he said the decision was “more of a learning experience,” and admitted that it was most likely he would return to the team. Pruitt confirmed those beliefs Sunday night.

“At this stage in my career I feel it would be best to return to the (Illinois) men’s basketball program and help my teammates prepare for another winning season,” Pruitt said. “During this process of evaluating my pro potential, I appreciate the support I received from my family, friends, fans and the Illinois athletic program. I’d also like to thank the NBA organizations that took the time to evaluate me and provide valuable feedback.”

Pruitt will continue to put in time as both a student (a speech communications major) and athlete, and said he hopes to help the Illini improve on its 23-12 record last season.

“I am now focused on having a strong senior year at the U of I and feel that this experience has made me a better player,” Pruitt said. “I am also looking forward to completing my University of Illinois degree, and plan to attend class and work out with my teammates this summer.”