A few days after nationally respected college basketball prognosticator and provocateur Ken Pomeroy surprisingly picked Maryland as the 11th-best returning team in terms of talent next season, the Terps are losing two players, one who figured prominently in that equation.
Forward Justin Jackson, whose sophomore year ended in late December because of a shoulder injury, will hire an agent with hopes of turning pro, according to a statement released Wednesday night by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. Players who retain an agent lose their amateur status.
“Justin has progressed well after surgery, and in our discussions with him and his family, he has expressed his desire to pursue a professional basketball career,” Turgeon said. “We’ll continue to support Justin through this transition. Justin is a very talented individual, and we wish him the best moving forward both personally and professionally.”
In the same news release, Jackson said he was appreciative of the opportunities Turgeon gave him after he decommitted from Nevada-Las Vegas as a high school postgraduate player. Jackson signed with the Terps the day after star guard Melo Trimble announced that he would return for his junior season.
“This certainly was not an easy decision for me, as I felt like we had some unfinished business because of my injury." Jackson said. “After talking with my family and weighing my options, it’s my desire to turn my full attention to preparing for a career in professional basketball.”
Considered a potential late first-round or early second-round pick had he left after his freshman year, Jackson now finds his immediate future a bit clouded since he won’t be able to resume playing until July — after the NBA draft.
Several NBA scouts said during the season that Jackson could still get invited to the scouting combine in Chicago in mid-May so that team doctors could look at his right shoulder to see whether a general manager or two might be interested in drafting him, perhaps late in the second round.
Turgeon also announced Wednesday that redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley, whose playing time increased significantly amid the team’s spate of injuries, will transfer. Wiley is expected to graduate in May and would be eligible to play next season as a graduate transfer.
While Turgeon awaits a decision by freshman center Bruno Fernando on whether to forgo his remaining eligibility, the departures of Jackson and Wiley were not considered a surprise.
Jackson flirted with the notion of turning pro and participated in last year’s NBA combine after a breakout freshman year in which he led Maryland in rebounding and was second behind then-junior Trimble in scoring.
According to sources familiar with the situation, Jackson’s early-season shooting struggles led to his family deciding after he went home to Canada over Christmas that it was better for the 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward to have the surgery done before the season ended.
Jackson went from shooting 43.8 percent overall and on 3-pointers as a freshman — leading the 24-9 Terps in long-range shooting as well — to making just 36.6 percent (37 of 101) overall in 11 games last season, including 25 percent (10 of 40) of his 3-point shots.
Despite his offensive problems, Jackson was leading the Terps with 8.1 rebounds a game when he was sidelined. In his next-to-last game at Maryland, a 92-91 overtime road win at Illinois on Dec. 3, Jackson scored a season-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting while playing 41 minutes.
Jackson’s absence, as well as a season-ending knee injury suffered by his backup, redshirt junior Ivan Bender, contributed to a disappointing 19-13 season for the Terps, who missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years and were also not selected to play in the National Invitation Tournament.
The injuries led Turgeon to go mostly with a four-guard lineup, giving the once little-used Wiley a bigger role than he played his first two seasons. A four-star recruit when he arrived with Trimble in 2014, Wiley was struggled with injury and inconsistency during his first three years at Maryland.
After playing sparingly as a freshman, Wiley suffered a torn meniscus in his knee a few days before the start of 2015-16 and missed the entire season. His redshirt sophomore year and part of his junior year were also interrupted by injuries to his back and ankles.
With an increased role during the second half of last season, Wiley averaged a career-high 5.8 points in a little under 22 minutes a game. Wiley played a key role in Maryland’s late-season road win at Northwestern, scoring 12 of his season-high 13 points in the second half.
Still, Wiley‘s playing time was expected to drop, perhaps significantly, next season, with the arrival of freshman guards Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala.
“I’m very proud of Dion and the tremendous strides he’s made over the past four years at Maryland,” Turgeon said. “He’s graduating with a degree in American studies and I’m really happy for Dion. The unfortunate thing is that Dion had to endure so many injuries, but he never complained and just continued to work to get back on the basketball court.”
A source familiar with the situation said Wiley will likely try to play at a mid-major. Given his relationship with Juan Dixon, who recently finished his first year as the coach at Coppin State, Wiley could wind up finishing his career with the Eagles.
“I’m confident that he will have success,” Turgeon said. “Dion expressed a desire to play a prominent role for a program in a different area. We all want what’s best for Dion, and we wish him much success in his final season of collegiate eligibility.”
In the statement released by Maryland, Wiley said: “Playing at Maryland was a dream come true for me. This was a difficult decision because Maryland is my home, but I’m looking forward to a new opportunity. I’ll always be grateful to Coach Turgeon and the staff for sticking with me and always believing in me. I love my teammates, wish them the best and plan to stay connected to the program.”
While the news of Jackson’s decision to have season-ending surgery was viewed by some in College Park as being more focused on playing in the NBA than for the Terps, he said in the statement that he is leaving with fond memories of his two years.
“I love my teammates, many of them will be my brothers for life, and I will truly cherish the times I had playing in College Park,” Jackson said. “I also want to extend my appreciation to our great fans and all the support they showed for me. I will be a Terp for life.”