LOS ANGELES (AP) _ UCLA freshman Jason Kapono, the team's leading scorer, announced Saturday his plans to enter next month's NBA draft.

``Playing in the NBA has been a lifelong dream of mine,'' Kapono said in a statement. ``I feel now is the appropriate time to explore that option.''

Although Kapono has decided to enter the draft, he said he is still considering all options, including returning to the university for his sophomore year.

The deadline for declaring eligibility for the draft is Sunday, but Kapono would have until June 21 _ a week before the draft _ to remove himself from the eligibility list, as long as he doesn't retain an agent.

``My first year of college and playing for (head coach) Steve Lavin and the UCLA Bruins has been a great experience,'' he said. ``That's why I have left open the door to return.''

Lavin said if Kapono does decide to return, he and the team ``will welcome him with open arms.''

Speculation about Kapono's decision began several weeks, but the freshman's father, Joe Kapono, said as recently as Friday afternoon the family was undecided. KFWB-AM reported late Friday that Kapono had made a decision.

Two other UCLA players, JaRon Rush and Jerome Moiso, have also said they are leaving school early. That would leave the team with only point guard Earl Watson and center Dan Gadzuric as returning starters.

Kapono averaged 16 points for the Bruins last season and was named co-Pac-10 freshman of the year. He led the Pac-10 from 3-point range shooting 47.4 percent and his 82 3-pointers were school and Pac-10 freshman records.

Kapono, a 6-foot-7 forward from Lakewood, Calif., starred at Artesia High School. Former UCLA stars Ed and Charles O'Bannon also played there.