Silva (copy)

Chris Silva is entering the NBA Draft but is not hiring an agent so he can retain his college eligibility. File/Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina 

COLUMBIA — South Carolina center Chris Silva declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday, but is not hiring an agent so he can retain his eligibility for next season.

“I want to thank my family, my teammates, my coaches and all of our amazing fans at the University of South Carolina for all of the support I’ve received so far during my time as a Gamecock,” Silva said in a statement. “After meeting with coach Frank (Martin), I’m excited about the opportunity to declare for the draft, without hiring an agent. I’m looking forward to going through the process.”

Silva, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, is taking advantage of a recent rule change that allows players to work out for NBA personnel without losing their college eligibility. Before the rule change, players could only have third parties go between them and NBA teams to see if they had a chance to be drafted.

Now, they can work out and discuss their options with NBA general managers, coaches, scouts and players about what they need to do to make it at the next level. As long as they don’t hire an agent, they can accept any advice they get through the NBA Draft Combine before deciding whether or not to enter the draft.

The Combine will be held May 16-20 in Chicago. Invitations will be sent by the end of April. Silva has until May 30 to make his final decision.

He is expected to return to USC for his senior season.

“Chris’ work on the court has earned him the respect of everyone in the SEC, and also of people in the NBA,” Martin said in a statement. “With the opportunity to declare, he will be able to gather more information and get a feel for what the NBA’s opinions of him are. We are excited for Chris and that the rules allow him the opportunity to test the waters.”

Silva was the Gamecocks’ top scorer and rebounder last season and was the SEC’s leader in getting to the free throw line. Silva was second in the country in free throw attempts and sixth in makes while earning first-team all-SEC honors.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.