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Justin Jackson Returning to UNC for Junior Year

Justin Jackson Returning to UNC for Junior Year

After taking advantage of a new NBA rule which allows underclassmen more time to receive feedback on their pro draft status before choosing to return to school, UNC small forward Justin Jackson decided Monday evening that he’ll be sticking around in Chapel Hill.

The wiry, 6-foot-8 Jackson–a native of Tomball, Texas–averaged 12.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a starter for the Tar Heels during last season’s run to the National Championship Game.

With this decision, Jackson joins teammate Kennedy Meeks, who announced his own return to UNC back on May 4 after he was not invited to participate in the NBA Draft Combine.

Jackson was the only Tar Heel underclassman to take part in the Combine, joining departed seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson in Chicago for the event.

He decided afterwards that the professional ranks can wait.

“I’m glad I had the chance to enter the Draft and attend the Combine where I was able to meet with a number of NBA executives, and test my game against some of the top players in the country,” Jackson said in a statement issued to the press.

Jackson's length and wingspan have had him on NBA scouts' radars for a while, but his perimeter shooting has been inconsistent. (Todd Melet)

Jackson’s length and wingspan have had him on NBA scouts’ radars for a while, but his perimeter shooting has been inconsistent. (Todd Melet)

“But after discussing it with my parents and coaches and praying over this decision, the best choice for my basketball future is to return to school and play for the Tar Heels next season.”

Although he has been a major contributor for head coach Roy Williams in each of the last two seasons, pro scouts have long wanted to see a more consistent long-range jumper from Jackson–who often relies on crafty drives and floaters to score his points in the half court.

After shooting just 30 percent from three-point range in his first year on campus, Jackson’s shooting from beyond the arc fell to 29 percent last season–leaving some doubts as to how much improvement he’s made in that area of his game.

According to, a site that specializes in the NBA Draft, Jackson’s perimeter shooting (or lack thereof) is what had him ranked as the No. 72 overall prospect–which left him out of most mock drafts.

In today’s NBA, where offenses routinely space the floor with multiple shooters surrounding one big man, a solid three-point shot can make all the difference in how much value a player provides to an organization.

Now, though, Jackson will have at least one more year in the college ranks to work on his game–and possibly get another shot at tournament glory.

He’s expected to be part of a talented starting lineup at UNC that will likely feature Joel Berry II and either Theo Pinson or Nate Britt in the backcourt, with Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks in the post.

“Justin certainly did the right thing in entering the Draft, because it helped him and his family make the decision with the most complete information possible,” Williams said of his small forward. “Justin is a terrific player and an even finer young man.

“He’s going to be a big part of our basketball team next year.”


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