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Jaren Jackson Jr. becomes third Spartan to declare for NBA Draft

Jackson is the third Spartan to leave early, but there’s still hope that another star forward will return to school.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

March was a month to forget for Michigan State basketball. March has normally been a month full of success and excitement for the Spartans, but that simply was not the case this year.

April isn’t off to a great start either with the news breaking the other day that freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. is declaring for the NBA Draft and plans to sign an agent. Jackson announced his decision via Twitter on Monday, thanking Spartan nation for the support in his one year on campus.

“Michigan State is an amazing place. And this has been an amazing year — from the time I hit campus in June for summer workouts and summer school until now,” Jackson said in the tweet. “I never imagined it would be like this. Never. Playing for Coach Izzo and the rest of the staff has been incredible.

“... Spartans, this was not an automatic decision. And honestly, thank you for making it one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to think about. While playing in the NBA was always my dream and desire, I did not know the opportunity would present itself in quite this way. I’m ready to live my dreams and I cannot pass it up. Therefore, the time has come to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft.”

Jackson, who won both the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards this season, is considered a guarantee lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. However, there was some speculation that Jackson might return to East Lansing for his sophomore season to help improve his game and add more size.

Jackson finished this season averaging 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and three blocks per game despite only playing around 20 minutes a night. His 106 blocks this year set a single-season Michigan State record, and he would have surely owned the career record had he returned next year.

Michigan State not only will lose one of the game’s best rim protectors but also someone who was able to stretch the floor. Jackson hit 39.6 percent of his three-point attempt, which at 6-foot-11 is an incredibly impressive number, and it’s only better when you realize he put up 96 shots from behind the arc this year.

“I’m so proud of Jaren and excited for him as he takes the next step in his basketball career,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said in a press release. “He was a tremendous talent when he first stepped on campus, but when I think about the way he’s improved so much in just one year, especially defensively and with the ball, the sky’s the limit on what he can accomplish. There’s no question he could be one of the first few players selected in the draft.”

Jackson has all of the tools to be successful at the next level, so it’s no surprise he’ll most likely be picked in the top five of June’s draft. It’s also not a huge surprise that the loss of him will have a huge impact on the Spartans next year.

Jackson joins sophomore forwards Miles Bridges and Nick Ward as early entrees into the NBA Draft. Those three combined for 40.4 points and 19.9 rebounds per game this past season, and made up the bulk of the Spartans’ post presence. Bridges and Jackson have already or will sign with agents, but Ward has left the door open for a possible return to East Lansing by saying he won’t sign with an agency.

It sucks for Michigan State to lose a talent like Jackson, but it was somewhat expected. The focus for Spartan fans now turns to what Ward does. If he returns, he’ll be the main man in the post for what should be another Big Ten contender next season. If he stays in the NBA Draft, then Michigan State will be very inexperienced up front and rely heavily on their guard play in 2018-19.

Ward has until May 30 to decide on whether he’ll leave or return for his junior season. My gut feeling is that he’ll return, but it’s really hard to predict that kind of thing. Only time will tell on Ward, but we at least know right now that Michigan State will have to now move on from Jackson. That’s another tough blow to an already tough spring for Michigan State basketball.