Isaiah Stewart announces he's leaving Washington to enter NBA draft

©The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The dynamic combination of Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, the first pairing of top-10 recruits in Washington men’s basketball history, was never going to last long.

Throughout a disappointing season that promised much more than it delivered, Huskies coach Mike Hopkins often talked about their anticipated departures even though the touted freshman stars demurred when asked about their plans.

On Wednesday, Stewart announced he’s leaving Washington and entering the NBA draft. He is expected to be selected in the first round.

“After discussions with my family and the coaching staff and with a great deal of prayer, thought and consideration, I have decided to declare for the 2020 NBA draft,” Stewart said via Twitter.

McDaniels is also expected declare for the draft, and an announcement is believed to be pending. The deadline for underclassmen to apply for the draft is April 26.

Stewart is projected as the No. 21 overall pick that’s headed to Dallas, according to NBAdraft.net. Meanwhile, ESPN has him slotted at No. 26 in its ranking of prospects.

“Already has the body to battle with NBA bigs,” ESPN’s Mike Schmitz said in an evaluation of Stewart. “Relentless pursuing offensive rebounds. Has the strength to defend the post and clean up the defensive glass as well. Willing to do all the little things. Sets hard screens.”

Stewart, a square-shouldered and chiseled 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward, was the No. 2 recruit in the country and No. 3 by ESPN before arriving at UW.

The Rochester, N.Y., native immediately became a leader on a young team with four new starters. He started all 32 games and led UW in scoring (17.0 points per game), rebounds (8.8), blocks (2.1), field-goal percentage (57.0 percent) and minutes (32.2) despite constant double-team defenses designed to stop him.

Stewart, who was voted to the All-Pac-12 first team, set the UW freshman record for blocks (66) and rebounds (281). He saved his best performance for the end, tallying a career-high 29 points and 12 rebounds against Arizona in a 77-70 loss in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.

“Isaiah exemplifies everything you want from a student athlete,” Hopkins said in a statement. “He wears his heart on his sleeve, in the way he plays, how he interacts with the community, our fans and everyone he comes into contact with.

“As a coach, you want to see your players’ dreams come true. His dream of playing in the NBA is becoming a reality. I’m so proud of him. He is a special kid and I was honored to coach him. He’ll be a part of the Husky family forever.”

When Washington landed Stewart and McDaniels last year, expectations soared at UW, and the newest Huskies drew immediate comparisons to former Duke stars Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.

“Big things are happening at UW,” Stewart said shortly before McDaniels committed to UW. “It’s a team game, and you never want to put too much on one guy, but Jaden is special man. … You add that type of player to your team, and if you’re not thinking Final Four then your dreams aren’t big enough.”

The Huskies were picked third in the Pac-12 preseason poll and touted as a dark horse Final Four contender.

After racing to a 10-2 start and climbing into the Associated Press Top 25 poll, Washington lost 15 of its last 20 games, including a nine-game losing streak that tied for the second-longest in school history.

The Huskies finished last in the Pac-12 at 5-13 and 15-17 overall.

Without Stewart and the likely departure of McDaniels, Washington is expected to bring back four starters and six of its top eight scorers, led by junior guard Nahziah Carter, who averaged 12.2 points.

Sophomore point guard Quade Green, who averaged 11.6 points and 5.3 assists, is also expected return after missing the last 17 games due to an academic suspension.

The Huskies will also add 6-9 sophomore forward J’Raan Brooks, who sat out last season after transferring from USC, and former Wichita State guard Erik Stevenson.

“Coming from the East Coast, the city of Seattle was so welcoming to me,” Stewart said. “It will always have a special place in my heart and I’ll never forget all of the love that the fans showed me.

“Finally, I’d like to thank the University of Washington for giving me an opportunity to be a part of the Husky Family!”

Stewart joins a long list of UW players who have left school early and were chosen in the draft including: Markelle Fultz (2017), Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss (2016), Terrance Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. (2012), Isaiah Thomas (2011), Spencer Hawes (2007) and Nate Robinson (2005).

Ironically, the Huskies have never enjoyed much success with one-and-done players such as Fultz, Chriss, Murray, Wroten and Hawes.

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©2020 The Seattle Times