Chris Washburn, North Carolina State's 6-foot-11 center, will give up his final two years of college eligibility to enter the NBA draft, Coach Jim Valvano said yesterday.

Phoenix Suns General Manager Jerry Colangelo, describing Washburn as "a young player with enormous potential," predicted he will be one of the first three players chosen in the June 17 draft, perhaps No. 1, depending on the team that wins the choice in the lottery.

Three other NBA general managers, including Jerry West of the Los Angeles Lakers, said during the recent Aloha Classic that Washburn would be the No. 1 pick if he decided to come out this year, according to the league's Brian McIntyre.

Washburn, 20, is one of the best-known college players in the country, not only because he led the Wolfpack to the NCAA final eight last season but because of his freshman season, when he spent three nights in jail and was suspended from the team for the final three months of the season for stealing a stereo from a dormitory room. Washburn maintained the incident was a prank.

In the course of criminal proceedings in that case, it became public that Washburn scored only 470 -- 70 points over the minimum -- on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), answering only six questions because some coaches told him it didn't make a difference what his college board score was.

Washburn has until May 3 to officially notify the NBA of his intentions. In Raleigh, Valvano issued a statement saying he spoke twice with Washburn's mother, on Monday night and again yesterday, "and Mrs. Washburn indicated his intention is to bypass his last two years of college and turn professional.

"I can certainly appreciate what Chris has gone through these last two years," Valvano said. "It was great to see him respond to all the adversity he had to face and then have a very successful sophomore season. I hope that he continues to improve and that he will have an outstanding pro career."

Valvano's office reported that the coach was on the road last night and unavailable for further comment. Neither was Washburn, who averaged 17.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in his first full season.

Tom Abatemarco, Valvano's No. 1 assistant until being named head coach at Lamar University last week, said he thought Washburn "is making a big mistake. He's not ready emotionally. He'd be better off staying another year under Coach V. But with the tough time he's had, I can understand his and his mom's decision."

Abatemarco said he found Washburn's decision "very surprising. I thought he'd hang in there another year. But I'm not shocked. Word was gotten to the kid throughout the year by NBA scouts he'd go in the top five picks . . . One NBA club was flitting around the N.C. State club all year and letting him know he'd be in the top five. Other pro scouts tell it to newspaper guys, and that's not right."

Abatemarco declined to name the team.

Academics did not play a part in Washburn's thinking, according to Abatemarco. "He was on a schedule where he would have been eligible unless he went down this semester," he said. "That wasn't the issue. Some kids are meant to play professional basketball, and he was meant to do it."