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Maryland men’s basketball standouts Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala to enter NBA draft, but a return is possible

Maryland men’s basketball guards Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala announced Friday that they are entering the NBA draft, but the team’s leading scorers left open the possibility that they’ll return for his senior season.

The 6-foot-6 Wiggins averaged 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season, all career highs, while shooting 44.6% from the field and 35.6% from 3-point range. A streaky shooter, he emerged as the Terps’ best player over the season’s last six weeks, averaging 17.9 points per game on 50.6% shooting, including 40.8% from beyond the arc, over their final 12 games.

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“I appreciate my family, coaches, teammates, friends and followers for all of their support and encouragement over the past three years at the University of Maryland,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “Time brings about change, God opens doors and I have grown in faith to move forward, transition, and trust the process. With that being said, I welcome the challenge to proceed and test the waters in the NBA draft process while keeping my eligibility at the University of Maryland.”

The 6-5 Ayala had a team-high 15.1 points per game, up from 8.5 per game as a sophomore, and shot a career-high 43.7% from the field, including 33.7% from deep. A crafty combo guard who was forced to become the team’s top ballhandler, he averaged 2.2 assists and 1.7 turnovers while adding 4.3 rebounds per game.

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“It has always been a dream of mine to play in the NBA and I am prepared for the work that lies ahead,” Ayala wrote in an Instagram post, adding that he would retain his college eligibility before making “the best decision for me and my family.”

Wiggins, who scored a season-high 27 points in the Terps’ second-round NCAA tournament loss to Alabama on 11-for-17 shooting, told ESPN that he will seek feedback on his draft stock from the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee and plans on working with an NCAA-certified agent in the predraft process.

“I’m all about being a first-rounder and hearing about guarantees and promises in terms of keeping my name in the draft,” Wiggins, who turned 22 in January, told ESPN. “That’s why I’m keeping my college eligibility. I think I have a lot more I can show that wasn’t really put on the front page of this season.”

Wiggins is more highly regarded as a prospect than Ayala but still faces an uphill battle. He’s No. 25 on ESPN’s list of the draft’s top shooting guards and is widely considered a fringe prospect elsewhere, ranking as The Athletic’s No. 93 overall prospect and No. 89 overall on NBADraft.net. Still, he could emerge as a potential second-round target with impressive workouts. In previous years, former Terps stars Kevin Huerter and Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) soared up draft boards during the predraft process.

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With Maryland senior guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) announcing Monday that he would be entering the transfer portal and declaring for the NBA draft, but also considering a return to College Park next season, the Terps’ backcourt is in limbo. Rhode Island transfer and point guard Fatts Russell will give the team the ballhandler it lacked last season, but Morsell and Wiggins were the Terps’ top perimeter defenders in 2020-21.

Ayala, meanwhile, scored at least 21 points in four of the Terps’ nine final games. He had a game-high 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting in a first-round NCAA tournament win against Connecticut.

The arrival of four-star recruit Ike Cornish gives the Terps some depth at the wing, where coach Mark Turgeon also has Hakim Hart and James Graham III. Depending on which players return, Maryland could enter next season as a Big Ten contender and potential top-15 team. The trio has until July 19 to decide whether to withdraw from the draft.

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