Utah Runnin’ Utes’ Branden Carlson declares for NBA draft, will maintain eligibility for 2023-24

Carlson, a 7-foot center who just completed his fourth-year junior season, has been an All-Pac-12 selection each of the last two seasons

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes center Branden Carlson (35) as Utah hosts Colorado, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

Branden Carlson has one season of eligibility left, but there’s no guarantee the University of Utah’s 7-foot center uses it next winter.

Carlson, twice an All-Pac-12 selection, announced Thursday he has declared for the NBA draft, but will maintain his eligibility. The South Jordan native made his plans public on The Runnin’ Hoops Podcast with host Andrew Crowley.

Carlson told The Salt Lake Tribune Thursday morning that he plans to hire an NCAA-certified agent while gathering information and going through the draft process. Using a certified agent would allow him to maintain his eligibility if he ultimately chooses to return to school. The NCAA deadline to withdraw from the draft and maintain eligibility is May 31, 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine ends.

“It’s been kind of crazy, talks with family and coaches to decide the right thing to do,” Carlson told Crowley. “That’s where I’m at, I’m entering the draft, and hopefully things go well.

Carlson has played four years of college basketball, but has the option for a fifth year after the NCAA made the 2020-21 season a free year of eligibility in the face of the pandemic.

“If COVID never happened, this would be it, so I’m at the point where I should be done, so I’m thinking along that line,” Carlson said. “I need to go do and see what could be next for me, and see the possibilities of what could happen. Talking with family and coaches about this season went, I think this is a good chance for me to go get evaluated, and hopefully make an impression.

Carlson’s foray into the NBA draft process after his fourth-year junior season is not unexpected, but it does add an intriguing wrinkle to what was already lining up as a hugely critical offseason for the program.

Coming off a 17-15 season in which it lost six straight games to play its way out of NIT contention, head coach Craig Smith has already seen multiple players hit the NCAA Transfer Portal this month. None of those defections – Mike Saunders Jr., Bostyn Holt, and Jaxon Brenchley – came as surprises, but it does leave Smith needing to now leverage the portal to fill those holes.

However the roster gets filled out, the prospect of losing Carlson is massive. Last season, after a 2021-22 season marred by injury and illness, Carlson was Smith’s best, most-important offensive weapon, averaging career-bests of 16.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in 29.1 minutes per game.

Not including Carlson’s potential exit, Utah currently has four open scholarships for 2023-24.