Tari Eason to leave LSU Tigers basketball team, declare for NBA draft

LSU sophomore Tari Eason will enter the 2022 NBA draft and forgo his remaining college eligibility by hiring an agent, he told ESPN on Friday.

"After a long talk with my family, coaches past and present and peers, reflecting on my love for basketball, I've decided to pursue my lifelong dream by declaring for the NBA draft," he said.

Eason, the No. 15 prospect in the ESPN 100, was named first-team All-SEC and Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.2 blocks in 24 minutes per game this season.

He spearheaded a Tigers defense that ranked No. 1 in the SEC and sixth nationally, per Ken Pomeroy's ratings.

"We had some ups and some downs this season, but I believe everything we endured will help me succeed at the next level," Eason said. "I'm truly appreciative to the university, my coaching staff, and my teammates."

Eason took a unique trajectory to emerging as a potential lottery pick. He was a three-star high school recruit who initially committed to Cincinnati, where he came off the bench as a freshman and averaged 7.3 points in 19.5 minutes per game. Last summer he elected to transfer to LSU after a coaching change and immediately emerged as one of the most improved players in college basketball, helping his team to a 12-0 start and eventually a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"Nothing was ever given to me," he said. "There were times it was just me and my mom on the way to a gym and she was the only one who believed in me. I had to earn everything, and I'm glad I did because it makes this moment that much sweeter. I'm always going to be prepared when my number is called. You have to sacrifice a lot if you want to be great, and I'm glad I made the sacrifices I did. People don't realize how hard it is to just not be a normal kid, but every one of those hours counted and I'm so grateful they didn't go unnoticed."

LSU's season was derailed when its administration fired coach Will Wade prior to the NCAA tournament after it received a notice of allegations from the NCAA accusing the program of five Level I violations.

LSU, with Kevin Nickelberry serving as the interim coach, was upset in the first round by No. 11 Iowa State days later, with Eason playing just 20 minutes because of foul trouble, scoring 18 points.

Despite coming off the bench, Eason led LSU in scoring while shooting 56% inside the arc and 36% outside it, finishing first in the conference in box plus-minus and per-minute scoring, and second in steals, free throw attempts and player efficiency rating, making him a candidate for player of the year honors.

"I hope NBA teams were able to see how passionate I am about this game and competitive fire," Eason said. "I hate losing more than I enjoy winning. I'll do whatever it takes for my team to secure a win. I also hope they saw that the defensive part of my game is just as important to me as my offensive game. I want the NBA to know that I intend to be an elite two-way player and I will never be complacent. There is never an end to getting better. Never."

Eason's versatility defending point guards, spearheading the top of the LSU press while also putting a body on bigger players from the center position, is intriguing to the switch-heavy modern NBA. His improvement as a ball handler, a passer and a perimeter shooter, along with the touch he shows from the free throw line (80%), piqued the interest of scouts as the season continued. He's also one of the most explosive finishers in this draft class, posting 47 dunks on the season, but also shows intriguing creativity and skill with the footwork he demonstrates as a shot creator, putting constant pressure on opposing defenders with his powerful first step.

"I'm excited to show NBA teams my work ethic, as I refuse to be outworked or out-toughed," he said. "Also, my offensive versatility, from ballhandling, decision-making and shot-making ability out to NBA 3-point range. I try my best on and off the court to be great."

The NBA draft combine will be held May 16-22 in Chicago, and the draft will be June 23 in Brooklyn, New York.