The 6-foot-9 forward yesterday made official what had been taken for granted at the University of Connecticut throughout the recently concluded college basketball season, as he announced that he would end his Huskies career after two seasons and enter the 2006 NBA draft.
The news came as no surprise in Storrs, where Gay was joined by his mother, father and an aunt who traveled from Baltimore in the morning.
"This was a decision that me and my family and my coach came to," Gay said in a telephone interview after a news conference at Gampel Pavilion. "We've been talking about it, back and forth, for a couple of weeks now. The reasons to go outweighed the reasons to stay."
The Sun's co-Player of the Year for Archbishop Spalding High two years ago, Gay is projected by NBADraft.net as a top-five pick in the June 28 draft.
While Huskies center Josh Boone, who went to South Carroll High and played Amateur Athletic Union ball with Gay at the Cecil-Kirk Rec Center, could return for his senior season at Connecticut, Gay is done there.
Boone has entered his name in the NBA draft but has yet to sign with an agent. Gay could sign with an agent before the week is out, which would officially end his NCAA eligibility.
"Agent screening is taking a lot of my time right now," said Gay, who was unsure whether he will attempt to complete the spring semester at Connecticut. "That depends on the agent I pick, and where they want me to work out."
Before practice began last October, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun openly spoke as if this would be Gay's final season with the Huskies. Before making the decision to go pro, Gay spoke to a cross section of former Huskies, including Caron Butler of the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors rookie Charlie Villanueva and Richard Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons.
It was cause for celebration throughout the state in 1998 when Hamilton decided to return for his junior year. He then led the Huskies to their first NCAA title in 1999. Gay said that his biggest regret was being unable to do the same.
"Everyone wants to win a national championship," Gay said. "Everyone who leaves early without one, that's their biggest regret. The only other regret I have is leaving the family I've made here, on this team."
Gay led Connecticut in scoring with a 15.2 average and 1.6 steals, made several All-America teams, and was a first-team All-Big East Conference selection. The Huskies were the No. 1 seed in the Washington Regional but were upset by George Mason in the regional final.
Gay concluded his college career with a team-high 20 points, but did not score in the last 11 minutes. There were times when his unwillingness to assert himself exasperated Calhoun.
"He probably should stay in school," said a veteran Eastern Conference executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "There are times when he takes over and other times when he blends in. We'd like to see him take over more than blend in."
Gay won't turn 20 until August, however, and his upside is considerable.
"This is the time for a tremendously talented guy to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity," Calhoun said. "I see nothing but greatness for him. There's no question that Rudy will fulfill the promise the people that draft him have in him.
"It's very sad to see him leave, but I am thrilled that he's going on to the next phase of his life as he grows and grows and I think becomes one of the best players in the NBA."
The draft will include two other prominent underclassmen, LSU freshman Tyrus Thomas and Texas sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge. The deadline to declare is April 29, and Connecticut also expects to lose junior point guard Marcus Williams.
Sun reporter Don Markus and wire reports contributed to this article.