IN RECENT YEARS the sport has seen plenty of top NCAA talents leave school early for the allure of the professional scene, but never a migration as notable as this year’s post-Austin Big 5. Early-year announcements by Texas A&M halfmiler Sammy Watson (February) and Georgia sprinter Lynna Irby (April) stood out because they didn’t come on the typical timeline: an athlete at their peak at the end of a season. The latest batch did, reinforcing the principle that negotiations go best from a position of strength. The 5 big post-NCAA moves:
It was no surprise, that vault prodigy Mondo Duplantis made the move, as talk on the street always had him pegged for a one-and-done career at LSU. Certainly, a European title and a 19-10¼ (6.05)—all before he wore a Tiger uniform—made it perfectly clear that that Duplantis, now 19, has been ready for prime time all along.
In a letter to the school’s fans, Duplantis said, “I always dreamed of winning at LSU—and we did, winning an SEC Championship we worked so hard for. I always dreamed of setting records—and I did, getting to compete in front of my family, friends, and the best fans in the country. Now, it’s time to pursue another dream. In the next 16 months, the best athletes in the world will compete for World Championships and Olympic medals. I plan to be among them. The best step for me next is to pursue a professional sponsorship, which is why I will be foregoing my remaining eligibility to turn pro.” He signed with Puma and says he plans to continue taking classes at LSU.
In a double hit for the folks in Baton Rouge, Sha’Carri Richardson is also leaving LSU. Her world-leading 10.75 in the NCAA 100 put her in perfect “strike-while-the-iron-is-hot” mode. On Instagram she announced, “After talking to family and praying for guidance with this decision, I would like to announce that I have decided to pursue my lifelong dream and become a professional athlete.” The young Texan has signed with Nike and will continue to train with Dennis Shaver at LSU.
After his dazzling 9.86/19.73 NCAA double, Divine Oduduru’s decision to leave Texas Tech with a year of eligibility left wasn’t easy. “It’s a tough one. This is my family. This has been my home,” he said. “We had a discussion with the coaches and they were like, ‘It’s time for you to go.’ Leaving the program is really tough, and school.” The Nigerian speedster plans to remain in Lubbock training with Red Raider sprint coach Calvin Robinson, saying, “I feel more comfortable here than when I’m back home in my country because they’ve given me a home here. They’ve accepted me, they’ve given me love. Everything I need, they’ve given it to me here.”
Florida all-arounder Grant Holloway surprised many by not turning pro last year, but now he’s with adidas. He said he had unfinished business for the Gators, and he came through with a magic day in Austin: a key leg on the first collegiate sub-38 relay, a 12.98 to break Renaldo Nehemiah’s hallowed CR in the hurdles, and a 43.74 leg on Florida’s 4×4. The world-leading hurdler let his coach, Florida head Mike Holloway, break the news. “It’s time for him to move on,” said Holloway. “He’s done enough for Florida track & field. Grant’s gotta take care of Grant now. He will be one of the all-time Gator greats.”
Having pushed Holloway to the line with his own amazing 13.00 hurdle run, Daniel Roberts signed with Nike and decided to bypass his final year at Kentucky. He made his initial announcement of his pro decision immediately after the hurdle final. He later tweeted, “Blessed is an understatement. This year has brought me everything that I could ask for and more.” ◻︎