Maryland basketball’s Justin Jackson is working out with the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, according to Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun. That means he won’t have a decision on whether he will return to school until Tuesday night at the very earliest, and more realistically, sometime on Wednesday. That’s the last possible day for those undecided players to pull out of the draft.
This is the Melo Trimble saga all over again.
Jackson’s return to school carries the same importance Trimble’s did a year ago, given the circumstance. Bottom line is, the Terps are in for a rough season if their best all-around player vacates Xfinity Center at the same time the school loses its centerpiece in Trimble and top bench option in Jaylen Brantley.
How did we get to this point?
Jackson was one of the best-kept secrets of the 2016 recruiting class, buried behind a stack of NBA-ready forwards like Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Duke’s Jayson Tatum. Playing high school ball in Canada probably didn’t help with his exposure, and 247Sports’ No. 83 ranking for him feels laughable — Jackson’s now in the mix as a possible late first-round pick in a loaded 2017 draft class.
Ironically, Maryland was able to snag Jackson nearly a year ago, just hours after Trimble announced his return to school. He had NBA size from the minute he walked through the door, carrying a filled-out-enough 6’7 frame with a 7’3 wingspan professional teams pay big money for.
College Park knew he was longed for the big leagues, but he was still wasn’t on 2017 left off mock drafts despite a terrific start to his freshman year.
Jackson was consistently good from the very beginning at Maryland.
In November, Jackson shot 15-of-29 from three-point range and was scoring more than 11 points per game. He hit a few rough patches throughout the season, but the transition was swift from the very beginning. His shot was pure, his hands were quick, and he progressed defensively quicker than anyone could have anticipated. Perhaps he was even Maryland’s best defensive option all season. The Terps won more games than they were built to because of him.
He finished the season averaging 10.5 points per game on 44 percent shooting from deep and six rebounds. The numbers weren’t gaudy, but his role in the offense didn’t demand they be. The scoring was widespread.
Jackson flew under the radar before the combine, but the skills that had him projected as a first-round pick in 2018 were on display once he got there. Jackson scored 11 points during a combine scrimmage, but more impressively, had five steals and three blocks. Twitter went abuzz and scared the crap out of Maryland fans who thought this was just a test ride for Jackson. It was a sign that his college career could be done quicker than they thought.
ESPN’s Fran Fraschila and Jeff Goodman both reported that NBA folks think he should return to school and play himself into a definite first-round choice. They feel he sits as as a fringe first-rounder at the moment.
As we have all seen by now, plenty of players each year are put in Jackson’s shoes and it doesn’t always come out the way they hoped. It didn’t work for Trimble, who nearly left after his freshman and sophomore years. On the other hand, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan has seemingly shown what waiting a year can do.
This is stressful as hell on both the player and the team.
The beauty of the new NBA Draft rules is that players can participate without an agent and determine for themselves if they are ready to leave or not. It’s just the second year this is possible, and is a step in the right direction that allows college-aged kids a chance to better inform themselves of where they stand in NBA minds.
It means College Park will have to sweat out another one, as it did last May with Trimble, and there’s no guarantee 2017 will bear the same fruit.
Jackson’s return gives Maryland a shot behind a guy who should be in the first-round of mock drafts next season. His departure adds even more uncertainty to the team’s ceiling, and bring into question whether or not the pieces are right for another NCAA Tournament run.