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Arizona's Lauri Markkanen leaps at the half-court line to prevent a call of over and back during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Washington on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen declares for NBA Draft

Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen announced Thursday at a press conference that he will leave the University of Arizona and enter the 2017 NBA Draft.

The official announcement came during a press conference in Tucson.

“First of all I want to think everyone back home in Finland who has helped me to reach this point,” Markkanen said. “My coaches, family, friends. I want to thank everyone here, the coaching staff, my teammates — it’s been an unbelievable year, I’ve had so much fun — and of course the fans, hearing ‘U-of-A’ chants everywhere we’d go, that’s been incredible.

“But playing in the NBA has been a dream of mine, so I’m happy and excited to announce that I’m declaring for the NBA Draft.”

The All-Pac-12 First Team member and third-team All-American averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in 2016-17 while shooting 49 percent overall and 42 percent from three-point range. His 69 three-pointers made are among the most made for a big man over the course of a season.

Markkanen leaving school early is no surprise given that he is projected to be a top-10 pick in the draft, according to DraftExpress. He also is ranked as the eighth-best prospect on the website’s list of its top 100 players.

Markkanen said he was hoping he would be ready for the draft after one season in college, but put his entire focus on his career with the Wildcats. It was not until the team got back to Tucson following its Sweet 16 loss to Xavier when he really thought about his future.

“I’m very excited, I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a big step and a big challenge for me, and I think I’m ready. I know I’m ready to go and do my best.”

The 7-foot Finnish forward leaves Arizona with a hole to fill at power forward, though that will presumably be filled by DeAndre Ayton, another 7-foot shooter rated the second-best prospect in his recruiting class, and Ira Lee, a 6-foot-8 power forward.

Arizona is also bringing in 4-star prospects on the perimeter in Brandon Randolph and Alex Barcello to join a group of returning players that, for now at least, includes Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Kobe Simmons, as well as Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Chance Comanche, Keanu Pinder and Dylan Smith, who will now be eligible after sitting out due to transfer rules.

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