The dynamic combination of Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, the first pairing of top-10 recruits in Washington men’s basketball history, was never going to last long.
Throughout a disappointing season that promised much more than it delivered, Huskies coach Mike Hopkins often talked about their anticipated departures even though the touted freshman stars demurred when asked about their plans.
Wednesday, Stewart announced he’s leaving Washington and entering the NBA draft. He is expected to be selected in the first round.
“After discussions with my family and the coaching staff and with a great deal of prayer, thought and consideration, I have decided to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft,” Stewart said via Twitter.
McDaniels also is expected to turn pro and the deadline for underclassmen to apply for the NBA draft is April 26.
Stewart is projected as the No. 21 overall selection, which would belong to Dallas, according to NBAdraft.net. Meanwhile, ESPN has him slotted at No. 26 in its ranking of prospects.
“I feel like I am someone who can play in an NBA game tomorrow physically,” Stewart told ESPN. “With all the uncertainty about whether there will be a summer league or what type of offseason the NBA might have, it’s more important than ever to have a long body of work teams can look at.
“People already know my reputation and what my character is as a person. I’ll continue to show NBA teams that over video conferences, Skype, FaceTime or whatever it might be.”
Stewart, a square-shouldered and chiseled 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward, was the No. 2 recruit in the country and No. 3 by ESPN before arriving at UW.
The Naismith national high school player of the year immediately became a leader on a young team with four new starters. He started all 32 games and led UW in scoring (17.0 points a game), rebounds (8.8), blocks (2.1), field-goal percentage (57.0%) and minutes (32.2) despite constant double-team defenses designed to stop him.
Stewart, who was voted to the All-Pac-12 first team, set the UW freshman record for blocks (66) and rebounds (281). He saved his best performance for the end, tallying a career-high 29 points and 12 rebounds against Arizona in a 77-70 defeat in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.
“Isaiah exemplifies everything you want from a student athlete,” Hopkins said in a statement. “He wears his heart on his sleeve, in the way he plays, how he interacts with the community, our fans and everyone he comes into contact with.
“As a coach, you want to see your players’ dreams come true. His dream of playing in the NBA is becoming a reality. I’m so proud of him. He is a special kid and I was honored to coach him. He’ll be a part of the Husky family forever.”
When Washington landed Stewart and McDaniels last year, expectations soared at UW, and the newest Huskies drew immediate comparisons to former Duke stars Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.
“Big things are happening at UW,” Stewart said shortly before McDaniels committed to UW. “It’s a team game, and you never want to put too much on one guy, but Jaden is special man. … You add that type of player to your team, and if you’re not thinking Final Four then your dreams aren’t big enough.”
The Huskies were picked third in the Pac-12 preseason poll and touted as a dark horse Final Four contender.
After racing to a 10-2 start and climbing into The Associated Press Top 25 poll, Washington lost 15 of its last 20 games, including a nine-game losing streak that tied for the second-longest in school history.
The Huskies finished last in the Pac-12 at 5-13 and 15-17 overall.
Without Stewart, and then with the likely departure of McDaniels, Washington is expected to bring back four starters and six of its top eight scorers, led by junior guard Nahziah Carter, who averaged 12.2 points.
Sophomore point guard Quade Green, who averaged 11.6 points and 5.3 assists, also is expected return after missing the last 17 games due to an academic suspension.
The Huskies will add 6-9 sophomore forward J’Raan Brooks, who sat out last season after transferring from USC, and former Wichita State guard Erik Stevenson.
After the season, Stewart returned home to Rochester, N.Y., because the University of Washington closed campus and suspended in-person classes during the spring quarter amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“It feels weird to be declaring for the draft with all this going on,” Stewart told ESPN. “I understand that there are bigger issues going on in the world, but I also want to let people know what my plans are.”
Stewart joins a long list of UW players who have left school early and were chosen in the draft, including Markelle Fultz (2017), Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss (2016), Terrance Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. (2012), Isaiah Thomas (2011), Spencer Hawes (2007) and Nate Robinson (2005).
Ironically, the Huskies have never enjoyed much success with one-and-done players such as Fultz, Chriss, Murray, Wroten and Hawes.