Auburn basketball: J.T. Thor declares for the NBA draft

Bruce Pearl said he expected several Auburn basketball players to test the NBA draft waters this offseason.

The first, freshman forward J.T. Thor, officially threw his hat in the ring Tuesday, noting “the option to return to school” is still open to him — college basketball players are allowed to declare for the draft, work out for NBA teams and even hire an agent while still maintaining their eligibility.

“As many of you know, playing in the NBA has always been my dream and I feel that my time is now,” Thor said in a social media post. “This will provide me the opportunity to continue doing what I love at the highest level while also taking care of my family.

“My dream has never been so close and I look forward to this next chapter with confidence and determination.”

Thor, a 6-foot-10, 205-pound forward who considers Anchorage, Alaska, home, started all 27 games as a freshman and did a little bit of everything for the Tigers — he averaged 9.4 points on 44 percent shooting (22 of 74 from 3-point range), five rebounds, 1.4 blocks and a little less than one assist and one steal in 23 minutes.

The former four-star recruit was inconsistent at times, which should not come as a surprise given that he reclassified to enroll at Auburn a year early after playing just three seasons of high school basketball. But Thor had a couple of games that showed why Pearl believes he has “next-level stuff.”

Most notably: a 24-point, nine-rebound, two-block performance against Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Feb. 13.

“J.T. has a great future ahead of him,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said Tuesday. “He’s a hard worker, he’s got great versatility and he showed the potential he has on both ends of the floor this past season. We’re going to support him as he goes through this process and receives valuable feedback. We’re going to work really hard to see that he gets the best opportunity, whether that is keeping his name in the draft or coming back to Auburn.”

Thor was slated to be a key piece of an Auburn frontcourt rotation that should also include Jaylin Williams and five-star freshman Jabari Smith, and still could be, but he will hear what NBA teams have to say first.

Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Austin Wiley are past Tigers who have declared for the NBA Draft before ultimately deciding to return to school. Chuma Okeke (drafted 16th in 2019) and Isaac Okoro (drafted fifth in 2020) are examples of players who kept their names in the pool after learning how high their stock was.

The NBA has not set a date for the 2021 draft, though the event is typically in July.