Justin Jackson dipped his toe into the NBA draft waters last year and learned a lot about what it takes to play at the next level. He heeded that advice and now, after leading North Carolina to a national championship, the ACC Player of the Year is ready to dive head-long into his professional future. The 6-foot-8 junior announced Thursday that he’ll forego his final season of college eligibility to enter and remain in this year’s draft. “Justin explored his draft options after his sophomore season but understood it was in his best interest to play another season of college basketball and what a year it was for him and our team,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said in a statement. “He did what our coaches and the NBA people advised him to do, get stronger and work on making more shots. He responded by investing a tremendous amount of his time in the offseason and came back to school a bigger, better and more confident player. “Justin has improved his draft position immensely this year and it’s a credit to him and the hard work he put into making himself a great player. We are so pleased that he is able to take this step and look forward to watching him play for many years at the next level.” Jackson led UNC in scoring at 18.3 points per game, setting a single-season school record with 105 3-pointers along the way. He was also second on the team with 113 assists while averaging a career-high 4.7 rebounds. His 731 points were the second most of any player in Williams’ 14 seasons at UNC and tied for the fifth most in any season by a Tar Heel. His selection as ACC Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American qualifies his jersey to be added to those hanging from the Smith Center rafters. But that’s not the only banner he’s responsible for adding to UNC’s already large collection. Jackson’s contribution to the Tar Heels’ six-game national championship run included a team-leading 19.5 point per game average and all-tournament honors at both the NCAA South Regional and Final Four. He accounted 16 points in his team’s title-clinching victory against Gonzaga in Phoenix on April 3. His 239 career points in the NCAA tournament are the second most by a UNC player. In addition to his scoring, he accounted for nine postseason steals and helped hold Kentucky’s Malik Monk, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks and Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss to a combined 11 of 38 shooting from the floor. “My family and I discussed my decision with Coach Williams and we agree that declaring for the NBA Draft is best for my career,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t trade anything the last three years as a Tar Heel, especially getting the chance to win a national championship, which was unbelievable. I feel I made a good decision last year to come back for my junior year. That has put me in a much better position as a basketball player and a person. I’m proud to know I will always be a Tar Heel.” The website NBA Draft Express has Jackson projected as the 13th player selected in this year’s draft.
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