De'Anthony Melton withdrawing from USC to prepare for pros

Suspended USC sophomore guard De'Anthony Melton announced he will withdraw from the university and focus on preparing for professional basketball.

"After much thought and consideration, we, as a family, have made the difficult decision for me to withdraw from school," he said in a statement on Twitter. "It has truly been an honor to be a member of the Trojan family for the past two years."

Melton has not suited up for the Trojans this season after an eligibility issue surfaced when an FBI investigation concluded that former USC assistant Tony Bland was one of four assistant coaches in college basketball accepting bribes to steer players toward agents, financial advisers and apparel companies.

In January, the school decided to suspend Melton for the entire season after determining a close family friend received an extra benefit. That friend, Dave Elliott, allegedly took a plane ticket and possibly payment for a hotel room at a basketball event in Las Vegas, according to Melton's attorney, Vicki Podberesky.

Had USC let Melton play, it would have risked forfeiting games, USC athletic director Lynn Swann told the Southern California News Group.

"I won't go into details, but our first priority here is to protect the program and to also protect the players in that program," Swann told the group. "Our process was, during our investigation, to look at every detail, look at the facts, make a determination, constant communication with the NCAA in terms of rules violations and interpretations. We came to a conclusion, based on the actions of the family friend, that De'Anthony would be considered noncompliant.

"If he had played in these games, these games would potentially have been forfeited. We felt the best thing to do, while still advocating and trying to find a way if the facts would support it, that he could play, while certainly making sure the team was compliant and could move forward. At the end of the day, we had to make that decision."

Melton was allowed to remain on scholarship at USC and was expected to be eligible to play next season, if he chose to return. As a freshman in 2016-17, Melton averaged 8.3 points and 3.5 assists per game.

It's unclear how his professional future will be affected having not played a competitive game this season.

"I have reached a crossroad wherein I have decision to focus on honing my strengths and improving upon my weaknesses for competition at the next level," Melton said. "I would like to thank the University staff, especially that of the Men's Basketball Program for their guidance and dedication. I would also like to thank my fellow teammates for their unwavering support."

USC (19-9, 10-5) is tied with UCLA in second place in the Pac-12 standings and plays at Colorado tonight.