BOULDER – Spencer Dinwiddie’s boyhood dream was to play in the NBA, and on Thursday afternoon he announced he will give himself that chance. The University of Colorado’s talented 6-6 junior point guard will declare his eligibility for the NBA Draft, foregoing his final season of eligibility at CU.

Dinwiddie, who missed the 2013-14 season’s last 18 games with an ACL injury that required reconstructive surgery, called the decision to leave “very difficult (and) bittersweet. I love everything about this place – I love the guys, the coaches . . . but I was weighing the chance to do something special. It’s the best thing to do in terms of my future.”

The deadline for college underclassmen to declare their eligibility for the draft is Sunday, April 27. The NBA Draft is Thursday, June 26.

Seated alongside Buffs coach Tad Boyle, Dinwiddie announced his plans at a crowded news conference at the Coors Events Center’s media room. His parents, Malcolm and Stephanie of Woodland Hills, Calif., also were in attendance.

Boyle said there was “no question” in his mind that Dinwiddie “is an NBA player” and has “first-round talent . . . the journey will unfold before us; we don’t have the answers to that right now."  Boyle also called the decision very personal and added, “If this is what he thinks is best we’re going to support him.”

Dinwiddie, who averaged 13.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals during his college career, becomes the third CU underclassman in the last four years to exit early for the NBA.

Guard Alec Burks left after his sophomore season (2011) and was drafted in the first round (12th player selected) by Utah. Last spring, junior wing Andre Roberson also was taken in the first round (26th player selected) by Minnesota but ended up via trade with Oklahoma City.

Before he made his decision, Dinwiddie made a trip to Houston last weekend for a final medical evaluation. Although not yet 100 percent healed, he has been rehabilitating his left knee since suffering the season-ending injury on Jan. 12 at Washington and said Thursday he should be “full-go” by the first week in August.

That would be seven months after his injury – an astoundingly short rehab period. He said the Houston specialist who evaluated him last weekend offered a rehab comparison with NFL running back Adrian Peterson, saying, “If Adrian Peterson is Secretariat (for returning so quickly after knee surgery), then you’re Seabiscuit . . . he said after seven months I should be full-go.”

Dinwiddie said he has “first-round talent across the board” and that was the general consensus in NBA evaluations. “I got a lot of intrigue from the league. Everybody likes what I bring to the table.”

But, he added, the two biggest question marks hovering over him are his knee and his shooting – with Boyle claiming the latter question mark shouldn’t be there: “He can shoot better than many think . . . somebody is going to get a hell of a player at a bargain price.”

And, claimed Dinwiddie, he shouldn’t carry the injury stigma: “I shouldn’t be looked at as an injured player. I’m a player who works hard; I’m not Spencer Dinwiddie with an injured knee.”

Asked what he might be able to contribute to an NBA team, he said, “It depends on the team . . . if a team needs me to come in and learn from a vet, I’ll do that. If a team wants to give me the keys to the car, I’ll do that.”

Dinwiddie unquestionably had the keys to two of Boyle’s teams. At the time of his injury, the Buffs were ranked No. 15 nationally and appeared on their way to a 15-2 record – the men’s basketball program’s best start since the 1968-69 season.

However, Dinwiddie’s first-half injury on that Sunday afternoon launched a downward spiral – CU lost 71-54 – and put the Buffs in recovery mode for the next two weeks. They lost four of five before successfully adjusting to Dinwiddie’s absence and finishing with the third-most wins (23-12 overall, 10-8 Pac-12) in school history and making the NCAA Tournament for a school-record third consecutive time.

Even in two-and-a-half seasons at CU, Dinwiddie made his mark. In addition to becoming the 30th player to score 1,000 career points (1,115), he ranks in the career top ten in four categories: third in free throw percentage (.830), fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (.386), fifth in free throws made (420), seventh in free throw attempts (506).

In the Buffs’ 72-68 win at Oregon State on Feb. 10, 2013, he was the picture of perfection, setting a school mark for not missing a shot – 6-of-6 from the field, including 4-of-4 3-pointers, and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. He also owns CU’s third-longest made free throw streak – 33 in five games from Feb. 7 to Feb. 21 in the 2012-13 season.

But Dinwiddie, who recorded 11 games of 20 points or over at CU, provided more than stunning numbers for the Buffs. He quickly became a team leader on and off the court, and after this season’s injury helped provide inspiration from the bench as CU chased a record fourth consecutive 20-win season under Boyle.

Dinwiddie said his fondest on-court CU memory would be winning the inaugural Pac-12 tournament championship in Los Angeles, a run of four wins in four days by the Buffs. “That concentrated period was great,” he said. But overshadowing that glorious run, he added, was making what he believes will be lifelong friends in Boulder.

“With a personality like mine you don’t always make friends,” he said, mentioning former Buffs player Jeremy Adams as his best friend. “(Friendship) is the single best memory.”

Dinwiddie’s pre-injury success was hard to miss in the world of college hoops. Prior to the 2013-14 season, he made three prestigious Top 50 watch lists – Cousy, Naismith, Wooden – and in the summer of 2013 was one of 12 student-athletes picked for USA Basketball in the World University Games in Kazen, Russia. He was the only Pac-12 player on the roster.

Dinwiddie’s early departure might be only mildly surprising to Boyle and his staff – and that because of the knee injury. Long before Dinwiddie went down in Seattle, Boyle had prepared himself for a backcourt change in 2014-15. But Dinwiddie’s mishap forced the Buffs to deal with his absence nine months earlier than expected and mend on the fly in mid-season.

CU’s returning guards are seniors Askia Booker and Kevin Nelson; juniors Xavier Talton, Eli Stalzer and Brett Brady; and sophomore Jaron Hopkins. Sophomores George King and Tre’Shaun Fletcher are listed as guards/forwards.

Also, Boyle signed top Colorado high school prospect Dominique Collier. The 6-2 Collier, who averaged 23.4 and 3.7 assists per game for Denver East, was honored as this season’s Class 5A player-of-the-year and was Colorado’s Mr. Basketball (Denver Post) for the past two seasons.

Boyle conceded Thursday that sometimes while alone in a rental car on recruiting trips he ponders what the 2013-14 Buffs might have been with Roberson still in the lineup and having a healthy Dinwiddie for a full season playing alongside CU’s current players.

“Those are questions that float in your mind, but you’ve got to get them out quickly,” Boyle said, adding that he builds a program for contingencies and tries to “use everything that happens in a positive light . . . we try to build sustained success. At some time things are going to come together. We’ll have a couple of NBA players on the court at the same time and we’re going to blow the doors off this place.”

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU