Kentucky men’s basketball freshman forward Isaiah Jackson plans to submit his name for the 2021 NBA Draft and go through the NBA’s evaluation process, he announced Wednesday.
Jackson does not plan to hire an agent at this time, although he can sign with an NCAA-certified agent, receive feedback and still return to school.
There is no current deadline for Jackson to make a final decision as to whether to remain in the draft or return to Kentucky. Due to restructured NBA and NCAA schedules from the COVID-19 pandemic, dates for the 2021 NBA Draft, NBA Combine and NCAA eligibility deadlines have not been set yet.
“Playing in the NBA has always been a dream of mine growing up,” Jackson said. “It has always been something that, with the right opportunity, I would pursue. I would like to thank God for giving me the strength and ability to play the game I truly love. I want to thank my family and my friends for being there for me through thick and thin. And I would also like to thank Coach Cal, the staff, and the Big Blue Nation for the privilege to play at Kentucky and for the opportunity to pursue this dream. No matter what I ultimately decide, this place will always hold a special place in my heart.
“With that being said, I will be entering the 2021 NBA Draft without an agent and testing the waters. I am looking forward to the process and seeing what my future holds. I appreciate all the support in making this decision and I want to thank everybody who has been with me since day one.”
Jackson is the first player from the 2020-21 Wildcats to announce his intentions to declare for the 2021 NBA Draft. Players can submit paperwork to receive evaluations from the NBA and participate – if invited – in the NBA Draft Combine.
At this time, Jackson plans to utilize the current rules in place.
“Isaiah made unbelievable strides to put himself in a position to test the waters,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “He grew throughout the year and became more confident on both ends of the floor. He has a tremendous ability as a defensive player and really grew and developed his offensive game as the season wore on. I am anxious to see how this process plays out for him. I wish him nothing but the best, and he and his family know they have my full support with whatever they decide. If he does come back, I will be really excited about coaching him, but I know it is in his best interest to pursue this opportunity and process.”
Jackson’s ability and athleticism were evident early in his freshman campaign and he transformed into an All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team and Defensive Team performer by the season’s end.
The freshman forward averaged 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in 25 games with 18 starts. Over the last seven outings, he logged 13.3 points and 6.9 boards per game and reached double-figure scoring in all but the last contest. Jackson recorded two double-doubles on the season, both of which came over the last seven games. He shot 63.3% from the floor during that span.
Jackson was an elite shot blocker from the start. He burst onto the national scene in his third career game when he blocked eight shots against No. 7/5 Kansas. It was the most rejections in a game for any Wildcat since Willie Cauley-Stein blocked nine shots against Boise State on Dec. 10, 2013, and it was the most ever by a UK player vs. an Associated Press top-10 opponent in program history.
The Pontiac, Michigan, native swatted 65 shots this season to lead the nation’s No. 3 shot-blocking team. He led the SEC with 2.6 rejections a game and ranks 15th nationally (through games on March 14). Jackson led the Wildcats in blocks in 20 of 25 games and recorded three or more swats in nine outings. The 6-foot-10 forward has also induced 19 steals on the season.
Although Jackson’s final block numbers did not ranks as high as Kentucky’s elite shot blockers because of the shortened season, his defensive metrics did. Not only did his block percentage of 12.7% rank eighth nationally, it stacked up favorably with UK’s three single-season blocked shots leaders in Anthony Davis (13.8% in 2011-12), Nerlens Noel (13.2% in 2012-13) and Willie Cauley-Stein (12.3% in 2103-14). Jackson’s 5.0 blocks per 40 minutes was also on par with Davis (5.8) and Noel (5.5) to pace one of the best defensive teams in the country.
In addition to his season-long defensive dominance, Jackson emerged offensively down the stretch. He notched 18 points and 11 rebounds against Auburn, posted 16 points and seven boards in the upset win at No. 19/20 Tennessee, and totaled 13 points and 10 rebounds in UK’s 92-64 regular-season finale win over South Carolina.
Jackson was also an elite rebounder. He grabbed 12.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, among the best marks during the Calipari era, and recorded a team-high seven double-figure rebounding games. In the second half of a win over LSU, after sitting much of the opening stanza with foul trouble, Jackson hauled in 13 rebounds after halftime. It was the most rebounds by a UK player since Nick Richards hauled in 16 boards vs. Arkansas on Feb. 26, 2019. According to STATS, Jackson became the first player with 15 or more rebounds in fewer than 20 minutes played against a major conference opponent since VMI’s Eric Mann had 17 boards in 19 minutes against South Carolina on Dec. 28, 2000.
Since Calipari joined the Kentucky program for the 2009-10 season, UK has produced 41 NBA Draft picks over 11 seasons, far and away more than any other school. Included in the 41 are 31 first-rounders, three No. 1 overall picks and 21 lottery selections.
Of the 28 players at UK who have declared for the NBA Draft after their freshman seasons, 26 have been first-round picks (and all 28 have played in an NBA game). Calipari is 30 for 32 in that regard when including his players from Memphis.
Of the 66 players who have finished their college careers at Kentucky under Calipari (through the 2019-20 season), 41 were selected in the NBA Draft, a 62.1% success rate. Another six of those made the NBA, and the majority of the rest were walk-ons.
Calipari’s players are not only reaching the next level, they are succeeding when they do. Since 2010, eight of his players have garnered 26 All-Star selections. Derrick Rose (from Memphis) was named league MVP in 2011. Five of his players have been tabbed All-NBA (Rose, John Wall, Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Karl-Anthony Towns), three have been named NBA Rookie of the Year (Rose, Tyreke Evans and Towns), and 14 players from Calipari’s first 10 teams at Kentucky have made the NBA All-Rookie teams.
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