Isaiah Jackson is staying in the NBA draft. Here's what it means for UK basketball roster

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON — Kentucky basketball fans dreaming of a return to school for forward Isaiah Jackson can officially move on.

Jackson, who had left open the door for a possible return to school when he declared for the NBA draft in March, announced Friday he is leaving his name in the draft and forgoing the rest of his college eligibility. 

"Thank you, BBN," Jackson wrote in a note posted to Twitter. "I will always love you and rock with you."

ESPN ranks Jackson as the No. 11 prospect in the 2021 draft class. Jackson's camp had hinted during the spring that he would return to Kentucky if he was not certain to be drafted in the lottery portion of the first round.

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Despite Kentucky's poor 2020-21 season as a team, Jackson exceeded individual expectations.

The 247Sports Composite ranked him as the No. 30 prospect in the high school class of 2020. He was the third-highest-ranked recruit in Kentucky's 2020 class but quickly emerged as the team's best draft prospect once the season started.

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Jackson averaged 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in 25 games. He averaged 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in the last seven games 

The 6-foot-10, 206-pound forward from Pontiac, Michigan was one of the best rim protectors in the country, leading the SEC at 2.6 blocks per game. He ranked eighth nationally in block percentage (12.7).

Foul trouble was an issue for Jackson throughout the season, but his offensive game improved throughout the season, offering a glimpse of his potential for further growth.

“I’m happy for Isaiah and his family,” UK coach John Calipari said in a news release. “Seeing his growth this season was amazing. His metrics are off the charts. Whoever drafts Isaiah is going to get an unbelievable defender who can guard multiple positions and protect the rim. Offensively, we saw his game really start to take off at the end of the season. The team that gets Isaiah is going to be surprised because he has only begun to scratch the surface on who he is going to be as a player. I can’t wait to see what he does at that next level. We wish him well.”

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Where things stand with Kentucky basketball 2021-22 roster

With Jackson's departure, UK's frontcourt appears set for next season.

Earlier Friday, UK coach John Calipari announced junior forward Keion Brooks is set to return. Brooks could start at the four alongside West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe at the five.

The Wildcats already have a like-for-like replacement for Jackson on the roster in five-star McDonald's All-American signee Damion Collins, a lanky forward with elite shot-blocking ability and an evolving offensive game. Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware are planning to return to the frontcourt, and UK signed four-star hybrid wing/forward Bryce Hopkins in its 2021 class.

Calipari said he was not planning anymore additions to the roster, even if Jackson stayed in the draft.

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Jackson's decision leaves just one lingering question on the roster: the status of senior guard Davion Mintz. Mintz is also testing the draft waters while leaving open the option to return to UK to use the extra year of eligibility granted all players due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calipari said Friday he was uncertain what Mintz would decide, but referred to him as an option in the backcourt multiple times during a 45-minute Zoom news conference.

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ