A year ago, Amir Coffey’s goals were to return healthy to the Gophers after recovering from shoulder surgery and prove he could be one of the top basketball players in the Big Ten.
After accomplishing that this season on an NCAA tournament team, Coffey has declared for the 2019 NBA draft. Coffey, a 6-8 junior guard, will work with an agent, but he’s still leaving open the possibility of coming back for his senior year.
After leading Minnesota in scoring (16.6) and assists (3.2) this season, Coffey is now taking advantage of new NCAA rules allowing non-seniors to fully go through the draft process and still retain their college eligibility. In August, the NCAA announced that college basketball players can hire NCAA-certified agents if they request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee to provide information on their draft stock.
The deadline to file that request is April 11. The paperwork for Coffey was submitted Tuesday, a source told the Star Tribune.
Coffey posted on Instagram later Wednesday night: “The news is correct. I will be entering the 2019 NBA Draft. The timing felt right after our successful season. I’d like to thank my family, the fans and all my supporters.”
Non-seniors who are invited to the predraft combine in Chicago also can remain in the NBA draft process and return to school if they go undrafted. Previously, players declaring early for the draft had to withdraw their names 10 days after the combine on May 29. Invitations for that combine will be delivered soon. The NBA draft is June 20.
Coffey, who could be a Big Ten player of the year candidate if he returns to the Gophers, had a breakout junior season. The former Hopkins star averaged 23.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals in his last eight games.
“When he puts his fingerprint on the game, that’s when Minnesota was at their best,” Big Ten Network analyst Stephen Bardo said.
As a sophomore, Coffey missed 15 games because of a shoulder injury, but he showed his durability this year, playing in all 36 games. He also averaged 35.2 minutes per game, fourth highest in the Big Ten.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino was forced to play Coffey as the starting point guard this season, a position he hadn’t played since before high school. Sophomore Isaiah Washington did not develop into a starter as hoped. Washington announced his transfer Monday.
“I believe he’ll play in the NBA at some point,” Pitino said this season. “The NBA doesn’t care about positions. College obsesses about it. But the NBA brags about positionless.”
If Coffey leaves, the Gophers will have five scholarships available for next season. If Coffey returns to the Gophers, Pitino would have three starters back — including freshmen Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur — from a 22-14 team that beat Louisville for the program’s first NCAA tournament victory since 2013.