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Ford announces intention to turn pro

AUSTIN, Texas, May 1 (UPI) -- After winning both the Naismith and Wooden Awards as national player of the year and leading Texas to the Final Four for the first time since 1947, T.J. Ford will try his hand at the NBA.

The 5-10 point guard announced Thursday he would forego his final two years of college eligibility and enter the June draft.

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"It was a tough decision, but I feel I'm ready to play at the next level," Ford said at a news conference. "Playing in the NBA has been a lifetime dream of mine, and I am ready to begin the next stage of my basketball career. Although I'll be taking on a new challenge, I will always be a Longhorn."

Ford has not hired an agent and left open the possibility of returning for his junior year. He has until June 19 to withdraw his name from the draft-eligible list.

Considered the best pure point guard in the country, Ford had an injury scare two weeks ago when he spent four hours in an emergency room after falling during a pickup game on campus.

He averaged 15 points, 7.7 assists and 2.0 steals and led Texas its first Final Four appearance in 56 years, where it lost to eventual champion Syracuse. In the 2001-02 season, Ford became the first freshman to lead the nation in assists, averaging 8.27 per game.

"You can't really put into words how much T.J. has meant to Texas basketball," Texas Coach Rick Barnes said.

But Barnes has to be disappointed since Ford's return likely would have made the Longhorns the No. 1 team in the 2003-04 preseason polls.

James Thomas, Brandon Mouton and Royal Ivey return as senior starters along with key reserves Brian Boddicker and Sydmill Harris.

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