Lukas Flippo

Yale men’s basketball forward Paul Atkinson ’21 is declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft, he announced Tuesday night.

Atkinson, who averaged a team-high 17.6 points per game this past season before earning Ivy League Player of the Year, will maintain his final season of collegiate eligibility as he begins the draft process. The 6-foot-10 forward scored in double figures every game this past season after setting school records in single-season, field-goal percentage as a first year and sophomore.

“It kind of always went through my mind,” Atkinson said. “I think I’m good enough to put my name in the draft and hear from a couple of organizations … I talked to my family and friends and it turned into a decision that a lot of people helped me make.”

Atkinson was a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team this past season. (Lukas Flippo)

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has suspended the current NBA season and will likely disrupt the pre-draft timeline, declaring as an early entrant allows Atkinson to participate in pre-draft workouts while soliciting feedback from teams and the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee. 

If he likes the feedback he receives about his projected positioning, Atkinson can remain in the draft and wait in anticipation until June 25, the scheduled date of the 2020 draft. If not, he can return to Yale for his senior season as long as he withdraws by June 3 at 11:59 p.m., the deadline for college underclassmen who want to retain their NCAA eligibility. Atkinson said that decision will depend on feedback he receives about whether he might be picked and where in the draft he might be selected.

“I think it’s great,” head coach James Jones said. “I think that young men that are Paul’s caliber should find out what NBA people think of them, and that’s what he’s doing. It’s a lifelong dream for anyone who’s picked up a basketball to play at the highest level, so Paul’s going to seek that out and see what people think.”

Atkinson said that Jones was the “main one” who encouraged him to make the decision to gauge his NBA stock.

Atkinson, dunking in February against Dartmouth, can return to Yale for his senior season as long as he withdraws by June 3 at 11:59 p.m., the deadline for college underclassmen who want to retain their NCAA eligibility. (Ryan Chiao)

Like almost everyone whose daily lives have been upended by the pandemic, the Yale junior, who is back home in Florida, is unsure of what the pre-draft process will actually look like. The NBA Draft Combine is still set to take place from May 19-24, but some reports from league insiders suggest the draft itself might not occur until August or September. The NBA would ostensibly need to conclude current season before setting a selection order for the NBA Draft.

“I think most people don’t really know,” Atkinson said. “As of right now, I don’t think any workouts are going on for pre-draft. If they come around and I get invited to one, that’d be awesome, and I’d definitely want to go and attend if it’s safe, but as of right now, [I’m] just waiting to hear about what’s happening.”

Atkinson said he has no current plans to hire an agent but is considering doing so.

“I think that young men that are Paul’s caliber should find out what NBA people think of them, and that’s what he’s doing. It’s a lifelong dream for anyone who’s picked up a basketball to play at the highest level, so Paul’s going to seek that out and see what people think.”

Head coach James Jones
The Yale junior averaged 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds this season, shooting 63 percent from the field. (Marisa Peryer)

If drafted this year, Atkinson would become the second consecutive Yale player picked in the draft. Utah Jazz guard Miye Oni, who won Ivy League Player of the Year after his junior season like Atkinson, declared for the draft and decided to remain after performing well at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine. When selected with the 58th pick, he became the first Ivy League player picked since 1995 and the first Eli selected since 1987.

“So much is about how you fit into the NBA game, which Miye did with his size on the wing and athleticism,” assistant coach Justin Simon ’04 said in February. “But Paul, Paul can score on the block with the best of them … We’ve played a lot of good frontcourts this year, and a lot of these games, Paul and Jordan [Bruner ’20] were the best guys out there: Penn State game, San Francisco game, Oklahoma State, even North Carolina.”

In addition to earning Ivy League Player of the Year honors, Atkinson was a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team, contributing seven double-doubles over the course of the season.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu