The North Carolina Tar Heels sophomore forward Justin Jackson announced Wednesday that he will enter the 2016 NBA draft but not hire an agent. By not hiring an agent, Jackson has the option to return to school should he withdraw his name from the draft before the May 25th deadline.
Jackson averaged 12.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game this past season for the Tar Heels and played a pivotal role as a team starter and one of the leading secondary scoring options while on the floor. Although it is no certainty that Jackson will ultimately follow through and forgo his two remaining years of eligibility at the college level, this has to be unwelcome news to Carolina coach Roy Williams. Forced to deal with losses of four-year starter Marcus Paige at guard and All-American Brice Johnson in the frontcourt, Williams was hoping to retain his talented underclassmen heading into next season.
In January, the NCAA changed its rules to allow underclassman to evaluate their NBA draft status while also maintaining eligibility. Last year, the rule allowed players who declared for the draft to have only until April 16 to withdraw their names from the draft. Jackson is likely taking advantage of the Tar Heels deep NCAA tournament run this year and attempting to capitalize on his hot shooting from behind the arc late into the season. Jackson shot 29.2 percent from behind the three-point line during the season leading up to the Tar Heels tournament run but hit 47.3 percent of his long-range attempts in the tournament.
The 6-8 wing has been projected to go anywhere in the late first round to early second round of this year’s draft. Given Jackson’s declaration of intent to enter the draft, look for him to stay the course if it appears he will in fact have a good chance of being a first round pick and thus assuring himself of a guaranteed rookie contract. He will have the opportunity to showcase his talent to NBA scouts thanks to the new NCAA withdrawal rules. The NBA draft combine starts in Chicago on May 11 and ends on May 15, meaning that Jackson will likely attend and showcase his signature floater and floor spacing in front of the very scouts who will help determine is draft stock.
Coach Williams can now only wait and see if in fact Justin Jackson returns for his junior season in Chapel Hill or continues to proceed with his current trajectory into the world of professional basketball. In the mean time North Carolina awaits the decisions of sophomore Joel Berry II and junior Kennedy Meeks, who also are considering whether or not to declare for the NBA draft. It does not appear as though Meeks and Berry II are likely to leave but that decision is left to the respective players and their families so we will have to join coach Williams in playing the waiting game.
If this is truly Justin Jackson’s last season as a North Carolina Tar Heel, he will conclude his collegiate career with a total of 773 points, 263 rebounds, and 182 assists and have the distinction of having been named to the ACC All-Freshman team back in 2015.
PROJECTED 2016-17 STARTING LINE-UP SHOULD JUSTIN JACKSON NOT RETURN
G Joel Berry II
G Kenny Williams
G Theo Pinson
F Isaiah Hicks
F Kennedy Meeks