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Drejer leaves Florida

After deliberation, forward Christian Drejer signs a pro contract with a Spanish league.

ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published February 19, 2004

GAINESVILLE - Christian Drejer quit the Florida basketball team Wednesday and returned overseas where he will play professionally in Barcelona, Spain.

Drejer, a native of Hallerup, Denmark, had been the subject of speculation since a Spanish newspaper reported last week that he planned to sign a pro contract. Intense pressure from family and agents finally persuaded him to accept the offer, Florida coach Billy Donovan said. The Barcelona team, of the Spanish ACB league, had been trying to sign Drejer since he was 16, but he had repeatedly turned down offers because he wanted to play in college.

He didn't travel with the Gators for Tuesday's loss at Georgia and informed Donovan of his decision at about 11:15 a.m. Wednesday. Drejer's swift decision hinged on a European league rule that forbids teams from picking up players after March 3.

"Barcelona has some injuries, they needed somebody to come in and play immediately, they offered him a huge contract and he decided to take it," Donovan said. "That's the reason it was such a quick push and this thing happened so quick. ... "I don't think the whole decision was purely based on money because if it was, he would have never come here. I think that was a factor in it."

Drejer reportedly will play the remainder of this season with Barcelona, then play another three seasons for a total deal worth about $1-million.

A starter all season, the sophomore forward leaves behind a team that has lost six of its past nine. Florida players had Wednesday off and were not available to the media.

"I would say the team's reaction is more of maybe an us-against-the-world mentality right now," Donovan said. "It's brought our team closer together. I think guys are playing for the right reason in terms of for each other, for the school, for the program."

Last week Donovan denied reports that Drejer was leaving, saying the former Danish National Player of the Year had assured him the rumors were false. On Wednesday, Donovan said agents had been talking to Drejer's family, but that the player wasn't aware of anything until Friday.

He told Donovan on Sunday he was pondering his future, which prompted the coach to leave him home because he didn't want him distracted.

Donovan said European agents led Drejer to believe that his stock was falling at Florida and he needed to bail out now. Donovan said numerous people associated with the NBA told him just the opposite: that Drejer would have been better off staying in college and could have been a first-round pick at the end of the season.

Saying he only wants players "who want to be here," Donovan said he never asked Drejer to stay, but did not kick him off the team. Still, he said he likely would not have taken him back if he had wanted to return.

"I basically told him today that he made the right decision," Donovan said. "I didn't think he could come back to our team doing what he did."

A tremendous amount of hype surrounded Drejer when he joined the Gators, but a foot injury hampered him most of last season. He played in 38 games and finished his career averaging 7.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

Drejer started 20 games this season and averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists. He had two double-doubles. In his final game Saturday, he scored three points, had five assists and four rebounds in 28 minutes.

"Did he ever live up to all the expectations and the hype and all the other things?" Donovan said. "I think probably in people's eyes, maybe not. I think people saw his talent level, his athleticism, his quickness and people always expected more.

"To be honest as a coach I kind of expected more and wanted more out of him and tried to create those situations for him to provide more. But for whatever reason, it never really, really happened."

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