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St. John’s Artest Enters NBA Draft

April 14, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Ron Artest went home to leave school.

The third-team All-America announced Tuesday he is forgoing his final two years of eligibility at St. John’s to enter the NBA draft. He held the news conference at the Jacob Riis Community Center in Queensbridge, the neighborhood in which he grew up.

He spoke for 30 minutes, thanking everybody he could remember who had affected his life, from relatives and friends to coaches and teachers. At one point he apologized for ``making this like the Academy Awards,″ but no one seemed to mind.

``I showed it’s not hard to make it out of Queensbridge, or any project,″ Artest said, looking directly at a group of kids standing just behind the eight TV cameras set up on the court where Artest learned to play basketball. ``I’m on my way.″

He also found a new way to describe leaving school early for the possible riches of pro basketball.

``I’m going to get a job,″ he said. ``I’m not leaving college. I’m just not playing basketball there. I’ll never leave St. John’s. I’m always going to be there. I love the place.″

In his two seasons at St. John’s, the Red Storm went 50-19 and twice played in the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-6 swingman averaged 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 rebounds in his two-year career.

The Red Storm fell one game shy of the Final Four this season, losing to Ohio State in the South Regional final. Not bad for a team that was unranked when the season began and finished ninth in the final poll with a 28-9 record.

``This was a very special year with one of the closest teams I ever played for. There were no individuals,″ Artest said. ``I had a pretty decent year and it would have been great to get to the Final Four. Once the season was over, I made the decision.″

The range of comments about when Artest’s name will be called in the June 30 draft go from a sure lottery pick to a suspect shooter who may not be picked until the late teens.

St. John’s coach Mike Jarvis is sure Artest handled the situation correctly.

``There is a right way to make a decision and a wrong way, and Ronnie talked to the people who mattered and did it the right way,″ Jarvis said. ``I can tell you we never talked about this at all during the season. The team was always first. I can’t be more supportive than I am.″

Senior forward Tyrone Grant is the only other player not returning to St. John’s next season. So the outlook is bright, even with Artest gone.

``I was selfish and told him he should stay, but he didn’t listen,″ said sophomore forward Reggie Jessie, who grew up in the same neighborhood and has known Artest since they were children. ``He’s a hero around here whether he plays in the NBA or not. Just what he’s done coming from here is special, and now he has the opportunity to play basketball with the best players there are.″