PROVO — Having surprised almost everyone, including himself, by turning in a better-than-expected sophomore season, Eric Mika says he’s ready for a new challenge — the National Basketball Association.
Mika announced Wednesday that he has declared for the NBA draft in June but will maintain his college eligibility by not hiring an agent.
The 6-foot-10, 230-pound, 22-year-old forward, who returned home from his two-year LDS Church mission to Italy less than one year ago, is testing the NBA waters. He’s eager to jump in, prepare for the draft and see what happens.
“I expect to do well. I wouldn’t be entering my name and I wouldn’t be making a big deal about it if I wasn’t expecting to do well and get drafted,” Mika said. “I have confidence in myself and my abilities and I’m hopeful that I’ll get some attention from teams and do really well … I wouldn’t call it a process of exploring because then I wouldn’t haven’t entered, per se, my name in the draft. That’s my intention, to be drafted by a team .... I would need to do what I’m doing and have good workouts.”
By declaring for the draft, Mika can be invited to workouts with NBA teams starting April 25 and those, like Mika, who haven’t hired an agent, are eligible to be invited to the NBA draft combine in Chicago May 9-14.
The deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft, while maintaining college eligibility, is May 24.
“We support Eric and will do whatever we can to help him through this process,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said in a statement. “Eric had an outstanding year for us. He worked incredibly hard coming off his mission to be ready for this past season and I expect he’ll demonstrate that same work ethic throughout this process.”
This season Mika averaged 20.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. He scored in double figures in all 34 games and recorded 17 double-doubles.
“I was blessed to have been here (at BYU) and have the season that I had,” Mika said. “Looking back, sometimes I wonder how I did it because I didn’t have these expectations for myself. I know that NBA teams are watching. Scouts are watching. I definitely turned heads this year. That’s a good base to build on. I think what sets me apart is what I’ve been doing all year but now they’ll get a closer look at it, which I think will be an advantage for me.”
His decision to declare for the draft didn’t happen all at once, Mika said.
“Coming into this year, I did not expect to do as well as I did individually. I think it gradually came as the season went on. I continued to progress and I feel blessed to have been here and to be placed in a spot to be able to succeed. It worked out for me. It was kind of a gradual decision that came and it felt right and I stuck with it ... It’s been a bit of a process. We really thought through it and considered a lot of different options, weighed a lot of different options, prayed a lot and came to the conclusion that this is the best thing for me right now and what I want to do with my life and where I want to be.”
Mika expressed his appreciation for the support of his coaches and his teammates.
“The way they responded made me super-happy and super-relieved because it was something that isn’t easy for me, thinking that I won’t be here," he said. "But they’re going to help along the whole way with the decision-making and helping me and get to where I need to be.”
Mika added it was important to have the support of his BYU coaches and teammates.
“It wasn’t easy going to them and telling them what my plan was, what my vision was, especially considering what they’ve done for me and what they do for me and the relationship that we have and how much I love BYU,” he said. “It was a big relief hearing their support, putting their arms around me, saying, ‘We’re excited for you, this is what we wanted for you. We’ll be with you every step of the way.’”
His former Lone Peak High teammates, Nick Emery and TJ Haws, were happy for him, Mika said. “Then it’s hard to think that what we thought of and envisioned from so long ago wasn’t going to be. It was tough for them. But those guys love me and I love them. We’re like brothers. They want what’s best for me. I told them I think this is best for me and they were 100 percent behind me.”
Being 22 years old, Mika admits that his age played a factor in his decision.
“A lot of the guys are 18 or 19 and I’m 22. I would be a senior (had he not gone on a mission),” he said. “That was definitely something I considered and thought about and realized that it would be the best time for me to go now.”
Should Mika opt to return to BYU, he would embrace that opportunity, he said.
“Yeah, of course. Once again, it’s a long process and a lot of things to think out and weigh and see how it all works out,” Mika said. “Life’s all about those options. That will definitely be something high on my option list. In the case that I did come back, I’d love to be here and improve and get ready for the next year.”
Mika didn’t rule out playing overseas next season as an option as well.
““That is an option and obviously we’re aware of that," he said. "We’ll have to go with the flow, see what happens and go from there.”
As far as his role in the NBA, Mika said he sees himself playing the four position.
“Because of my size and how I play, I think my skills will be best utilized and developed if I play the four and can spread the floor a little bit,” he said. “My athleticism, my quickness and my shot are things I’m going to be working on but there are also things that were underestimated this year because I did play with my back to the basket. I played as a big man, a true five for college. I’m not going to be perfect at all these things. I’m going to try to improve them. But I think I can show more potential than people realize. That’s my hope. I think it will work out.”