Maryland men’s basketball guard Eric Ayala will return to the program for his senior season, the school announced Wednesday. Ayala explored professional opportunities this offseason before deciding to keep playing for the Terrapins.

Ayala was not projected to be selected in the NBA draft, but if he had decided to finish his college career early, he might have had the ability to play professionally elsewhere. Ayala will be one of the key pieces in the Terps’ team that’s expected to land in the top 15 of most rankings heading into the 2021-22 campaign.

“I’m excited to announce I’ll be returning to Maryland for my senior season,” Ayala said in a statement. “I took my time throughout this process and am appreciative of the feedback I received. I can’t wait to get to work with our team and play in front of the best fans in the country once again!”

Ayala, a native of Wilmington, Del., led Maryland in scoring last season with 15.1 points per game. He shot 43.7 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three-point range. He’s been a regular starter for the Terps since arriving on campus as a freshman, scoring 994 points over those three years. Ayala has appeared in 94 games with 81 starts; during last season, he played 33.6 minutes per game.

“I’m proud of Eric for taking his time throughout this process and obtaining the feedback needed to make an informed decision on his future,” Coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. “Eric is one of the top guards in the Big Ten Conference and possesses experience at the highest level of college basketball that can’t be taught. He will earn his degree from a top-notch university and continue to build on his tremendous basketball resume to set himself up for the future.”

During Ayala‘s freshman and junior seasons, the Terps advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. As a sophomore, he was part of the Maryland team that won a share of the Big Ten regular season title but didn’t get to play in the postseason because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fellow guard Aaron Wiggins, who would also be a rising senior next season, has not yet announced whether he will return to the team. Wiggins earned an invitation to the NBA combine after a standout showing at the G League Elite Camp. Wiggins could be selected late in the NBA draft, but he said before a pre-draft workout with the Warriors: “Ideally, I want to be a first-rounder. Want to hear promises, guarantees of me getting drafted.”

Wiggins’s decision will heavily influence the expectations around this Maryland team. He scored 14.5 points per game last season and has developed into one of the team’s best shooters and playmakers.

Turgeon added four scholarship transfers, including Rhode Island point guard Fatts Russell and Georgetown center Qudus Wahab, who are both expected to start immediately. The Terps will also return starting forward Donta Scott, and other important contributors, including guard Hakim Hart, who started 19 games last season, and 6-foot-8 forward James Graham III, who enrolled early as a 17-year-old last December and could take a significant leap. The team will also welcome a pair of four-star freshmen from Baltimore: forward Julian Reese and guard Ike Cornish.

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