A year ago, Justin Jackson was a relative unknown to most Maryland fans when he announced his commitment to play for the Terps. The 6-foot-7 forward was also something of an afterthought since his announcement came several hours after star guard Melo Trimble told Mark Turgeon that he was returning for his junior year and pulling his name from the NBA draft.
On Wednesday, the quiet Canadian was clearly the headliner when it came to news out of College Park.
Despite recent speculation that he might forgo the remaining three seasons of his college career to turn pro, Jackson gave Turgeon the same good news that Trimble did last year. After Jackson met with his family in Toronto on Tuesday after a workout earlier in the day with the hometown Raptors, Maryland announced Wednesday that he was going to remain a Terp.
“I’m excited to return for my sophomore year at Maryland and look forward to building upon the success we had last season,” Jackson said in a statement. “The experience that I had participating in the NBA scouting combine will be beneficial in my long-term development. I can’t wait to get back to College Park and begin workouts with my teammates this summer.”
Jackson started all but three games last season, when Maryland finished 24-9 overall (after a 20-2 start) and lost to Xavier in the NCAA tournament’s Round of 64. Jackson was the team’s leading rebounder (6.0 per game) and top 3-point shooter (43.8 percent), and its second-leading scorer (10.5 points per game) behind Trimble, who signed with an agent last month to end his storied career in College Park.
“We are excited Justin is returning for his sophomore season,” Turgeon said in a statement. “Justin had a great opportunity to attend the NBA combine and gather information regarding his future as a professional basketball player. Justin has a bright future. We are confident he will continue to develop as both a player and a person and be a major contributor to our program.”
As a freshman, Jackson didn’t need long to demonstrate his potential. He scored 17 points off the bench in the team’s second game, an emotional come-from-behind win over Georgetown at Verizon Center in Washington. In the team’s fourth game and his second start, Jackson had 21 points to help rescue the cold-shooting Terps from a potential upset against visiting Towson.
In the Big Ten, Jackson was often better on the road than at home. He had 12 points, nine rebounds, six steals, four assists and two blocked shots at Iowa. In a two-game road swing to Minnesota and Ohio State, Jackson averaged 25 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 17-for-27 from the field, including 9-for-12 on 3-pointers.
With Jackson’s decision, the Terps return three starters from last year’s team, as well as a key reserve. Point guard Anthony Cowan, who started every game as a freshman, and Kevin Huerter, who did the same while playing mostly as a small forward last season, are expected to join Jackson in the starting lineup along with rising senior center Michal Cekovsky and incoming freshman forward Bruno Fernando.
The return of Jackson will likely allow Turgeon to move the 6-7 Huerter back to the shooting guard spot occupied by Trimble last season and use Jackson as a small forward if Fernando, a 6-10, 230-pound player from Angola who played the past two seasons at prep schools in Florida, can play major minutes at power forward.
Jackson had been mostly regarded by NBA scouts as an intriguing prospect because of his 7-3 wingspan and ability to shoot outside. During the recent NBA scouting combine in Chicago, Jackson had impressed scouts more with his defense and passing than his shooting. He was generally viewed as a project, a possible second-round pick this year and a potential first-round selection in 2018.
Devon Jones, a teacher and coach in Toronto who has known the Terps forward since the third grade, was part of the inner circle who met with Jackson after the workout with the Raptors on Tuesday.
Jones said Jackson's decision had more to do with his freshman year at Maryland than his future in the NBA.
"Honestly, in talking with Justin, he felt he had unfinished business at Maryland," Jones said Wednesday. "The way last season ended left a bad taste in his mouth."
Note: As previously reported, Maryland will host Butler on Nov. 15 in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. The game, part of an annual series between the Big Ten and Big East in its third year, will be telecast on either FS1 or Big Ten Network. The Terps are 2-0 in the event, having beaten Georgetown in each of the first two years.