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Walter Clayton weighs NBA options after leading Gators in scoring

Walter Clayton weighs NBA options after leading Gators in scoring

GAINESVILLE — Florida leading scorer Walter Clayton Jr. will explore whether to enter the NBA Draft before deciding whether to return to the Gators for his senior season.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Clayton, a junior from Lake Wales, announced his decision Monday on his social media accounts.

“I am grateful for being able to come back this past year and be a part of something special being built here in Gainesville,” the 21-year-old wrote.

Clayton transferred from St. John’s in 2023 to join the Gators, who finished 24-12 and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2021.

He led the team with a 17.6 scoring average, the most since Anthony Roberson averaged 17.9 in 2003-04. Clayton closed with season-high 33 points during a 102-100 loss to Colorado on March 22 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He scored UF’s final 16 points in the game during a furious comeback bid.

Clayton finished the season with team-high 93 3-pointers and 87.7% free-throw percentage, but also led the Gators with 80 turnovers against 93 assists.

He has until June 16 to decide whether to remain eligible for the draft, scheduled for 10 days later in Brooklyn, N.Y. Clayton wrote he’d play the 2024-25 season for “no other [school] than the University of Florida” if he withdraws his name from draft consideration.

Clayton is the next in line of one-time UF stars to consider their professional opportunities before returning to school, joining Tre Mann in 2020, Colin Castleton in 2022 and Riley Kugel in 2023. Each returned to UF for another season. Mann developed into a lottery pick in 2021, Castleton is with the Los Angeles Lakers and Kugel transferred last week to Kansas after a disappointing sophomore season.

The Gators lose point guard Zyon Pullin, who led the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio, and power forward Tyrese Samuel, who recorded a team-high 11 double-doubles. Big man Micah Handlogten suffered a compound fracture of his lower left leg during the opening minutes of a loss to Auburn in the SEC tournament final, leaving the 7-foot-1 sophomore to face a long road to recovery.

Wing Will Richard is expected to return for his senior season while post players Alex Condon Jr. and Thomas Haugh made major contributions as true freshmen.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com.