tampabay.com

'Nole set on going to NBA

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published April 28, 2006


Florida State forward Alexander Johnson, who initially left open the possibility of withdrawing from the NBA draft, told the Times on Thursday he was set on turning pro.

"I'm going, no question," he said. "I'm 23. I'm ready to play with the big boys. That's my dream, and I'm close to my dream."

Players have until Saturday to declare for the June 28 draft. Those who haven't hired an agent can withdraw until June 18.

Jonathan Givony, president of an authoritative scouting service, draftexpress.com, said Johnson's quickness and shooting touch from near the basket and medium range make him a "first-round prospect."

Johnson said he will sign with an agent soon, and beginning today, after taking his final exam of the semester, he will head to Clearwater to work out with David Thorpe.

Among Thorpe's clients have been former Florida star Udonis Haslem, who was undrafted and playing overseas but landed a spot with Miami after training with him.

Johnson spent 61/2 weeks with Thorpe in the summer, and Johnson improved his mental approach and conditioning.

"The thing with A.J. was to clear up his head and have him take ownership of where he was at in his life," Thorpe said.

The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Johnson lost about 25 pounds, enabling him to have a breakout season. He averaged 13.2 points and 7.4 rebounds, both career highs.

He figured to be a key, along with forward Al Thornton, for the Seminoles next season as they look to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.

"But," he said, "I really want to play at the next level."

MORE EARLY ENTRIES:

Arkansas junior guard/forward Ronnie Brewer, who averaged 18.4 points last season, declared but won't hire an agent. ... South Carolina junior forward and Tampa native Renaldo Balkman, who had a combined 33 points and 20 rebounds in the NIT semifinals and final, declared but won't hire an agent. ... Villanova sophomore point guard Kyle Lowry, who averaged 11 points and 3.7 assists, declared but won't hire an agent. ... Pitt junior center Aaron Gray, who averaged 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds, declared but won't hire an agent. ... Arizona forward Marcus Williams, who averaged 13 points as a freshman, said he will return despite believing he would go in the middle of the first round.

Seeking a frontcourt player for its last scholarship, the Bulls will bring in 6-8 forward Josh Love of Hill (Texas) College today. Love committed to Arizona State before it changed coaches. He averaged 19.5 points and 12 rebounds as a sophomore and was named MVP of last week's NJCAA Coaches Association All-Star Classic.

GEORGIA TECH:

Coach Chan Gailey will give up play-calling duties for the upcoming season. Patrick Nix, entering his fifth season on the staff and third as offensive coordinator, will take over. Gailey said he was under no pressure after finishing 103rd in the nation last season at 18.5 points per game.

MISS. ST.:

Defensive backs Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh, linemen Michael Gates, Charles Burnes and Quinton Wesley and quarterback Tray Rutland, all freshmen, pleaded guilty to reduced charges of misdemeanor assault for an incident with an off-duty police officer this month. Coach Sylvester Croom said he has not decided if they will play in the opener.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez was released from jail after his arrest for an alleged sexual assault, police said. The school said it will suspend the redshirt freshman, expected to compete for the starting spot, during the investigation.

BOWLS:

The International Bowl (Toronto), Birmingham (Ala.) Bowl and New Mexico Bowl were approved. That makes 31 games, not including the Houston Bowl, whose status will be determined in June. Also, teams that finish .500 now can qualify for bowls if its conference has a contract with a game or a game has a vacancy it can't fill.

UCF HIRES AD:

Orange Bowl Committee chief executive Keith Tribble was named athletic director. Tribble, who is black, is the 11th minority AD among the 119 I-A schools that play football. He replaces Steve Orsini, who became the AD at SMU.

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report, which used information from other news organizations.