Utah center Branden Carlson has not officially decided whether he will return to the Runnin’ Utes for his final season of eligibility in 2023-24, but he has taken an important step toward a career in professional basketball.

“I need to go do (it) and see what could be next for me, and see the possibilities of what could happen. … I think this is a good chance for me to go get evaluated, and hopefully make an impression.” — Utah center Branden Carlson

The 7-foot senior who prepped locally at Bingham High told “The Runnin’ Hoops Podcast” that he has declared for the NBA draft, but is maintaining his eligibility in case he decides to rejoin the Utes next season to take advantage of the “extra year” granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19 altering his sophomore season.

Since Utah’s season ended with a loss to Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, Carlson described his life as “kind of crazy.” He said he has met with coach Craig Smith to discuss his future, but remains undecided.

He said he has had “talks with family and coaches to decide the right thing to do. That’s where I am at. I am entering the draft, and hopefully things go well.”

Carlson will now await a hoped-for invitation to the NBA Draft Combine, which is held in mid-May in Chicago. The deadline to withdraw from the draft and return to school is May 31.

Discussing his decision with the podcast’s Andrew Crowley, Carlson said if the pandemic had not happened, he would clearly be leaving with four years of play under his belt.

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“I am at the point where I should be done, so I am thinking along that line,” he said. “I need to go do (it) and see what could be next for me, and see the possibilities of what could happen. … I think this is a good chance for me to go get evaluated, and hopefully make an impression.”

A first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2022-23, Carlson is coming off the best season of his career. He averaged 16.3 points and 7.5 rebounds for a Utah team that lost its final six games and finished with a 17-15 record.

Already this offseason, four of Carlson’s teammates have entered the transfer portal: Lazar Stefanovic, Jaxon Brenchley, Bostyn Holt and Mike Saunders Jr. The news about Stefanovic, one of three players to average double-digit points this season, came on Thursday as well.

Fifth-year Marco Anthony is out of eligibility, so Smith has five scholarships available and has been hitting the transfer portal hard the past few weeks.

The Utes signed Salt Lake Community College guard Hunter Erickson last November, but have had an open scholarship the past two seasons so the former BYU signee could be slotted into that scholarship and still leave the Utes with four openings.

Carlson’s departure would leave Utah with five openings, but it would also represent a massive loss for the program. 

Carlson can maintain his college eligibility if he retains an NBA-certified agent, which sources have confirmed to the Deseret News he plans to do.

Utah center Branden Carlson is returning to the Utes program for the 2023-24 season after declaring for the NBA draft.
Utah Utes center Branden Carlson is introduced during game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News