Before Dewayne Dedmon played his first college game two years ago, former USC coach Kevin O'Neill heaped lavish praise on the 7-footer.
"No question he's a first-round pick, no question," O'Neill said.
Soon O'Neill's bold prediction will apparently be put to the test. In a decision that's as puzzling as it is unexpected, Dedmon announced Wednesday afternoon he is leaving USC and entering the NBA draft even though he averaged a mere 6.7 points and 7.0 rebounds as a junior last season.
"It's just my time to chase my dream and go to the NBA," Dedmon said in a statement. "I had a great time at USC and it was a good experience. I had some ups and downs and learned a lot and believe it is best for me to turn professional at this time. I wish USC, Andy Enfield and all my teammates all the best moving forward."
Dedmon's decision is a surprise simply because his production doesn't seem to suggest he is NBA-ready. He has the size, speed and athleticism NBA scouts covet and he blocks shots at a high level, but he is extremely raw in all other facets of the game, from low-post scoring, to mid-range shooting, to defensive positioning.
Why would Dedmon leave USC now rather than take advantage of his final season to try to develop the skills he is lacking? Perhaps because the new Trojans staff wasn't going out of its way to persuade him to stay. Dedmon and teammate James Blasczyk were suspended indefinitely during last month's Pac-12 tournament for their role in a fight that took place in Spokane the previous week.
There's a good chance Dedmon goes undrafted this June, but in his defense he's almost certainly going to get a look.
Dedmon has more room for growth than the average redshirt junior because he has only played organized basketball since age 18 out of respect for his mother, a Jehovah's Witness who wanted him to focus on church, not sports. The athletic, speedy 7-footer has enough physical tools to be invited to work out for NBA teams and to perhaps sneak his way into the second round of the draft or earn an invitation to training camp next fall.
Still, Dedmon's road to the NBA is a tough one. He is a project who will have to persuade an NBA team his potential is tantalizing enough to put in the years of effort it will take to try to harness it.