Now, the Spartans forward is heading to the next level.
Jackson announced on Monday afternoon that he will end his college career after one season to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Michigan State released a statement saying he plans on hiring an agent, which would prevent him from returning for his sophomore season.
In leaving after his freshman season, Jackson becomes just the third player in Tom Izzo's 23 years as head coach to depart for the NBA after one year at Michigan State. Zach Randolph in 2001 and Deyonta Davis in 2016 are the only other two to do so.
Michigan State on Monday released the following statement from Jackson, which he also posted on Twitter:
Michigan State is an amazing place. And this has been an amazing year — from the time I hit the campus in June for summer workouts and summer school until now. I never imagined it would be like this. Never. Playing for Coach Izzo and the rest of the staff has been incredible. They've helped me develop so much, both on and off the court. After only one year, I know my memories are few but they will never be forgotten: football games, late night study group and early morning study hall at the Smith Center, the Breslin and the mighty Izzone, the PK80 title, the outright Big Ten Championship, and being recognized as Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the B1G. Please know that nothing was lost on me. Still, nothing is bigger than the bond I have with my teammates. These guys are my family. They will always be my brothers.
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.
Even though I will no longer play for MSU, I will ALWAYS be a Spartan! I will finish my studies and I will kiss the Spartan helmet on the Breslin court.
Jackson has been rated as high as No. 3 overall in some recent 2018 NBA Draft projections. His 6-foot-11 size and 7-foot-4 wingspan makes him NBA-ready, and his mobility and versatility on both offense and defense make him a fit for the modern pro game.
That projection had Jackson long seen as a likely one-and-done player, but he insisted throughout the regular season that he would not make up his mind about his future.
Jackson is the third Michigan State player to declare for the draft since the end of the season. Sophomore Miles Bridges announced on March 28 that he will enter the NBA draft and hire an agent, after earning All-American honors this past season and leading the Spartans in scoring. Sophomore forward Nick Ward is also submitting his name but will not hire an agent, meaning he has until May 30 to withdraw his name and return to school.
Jackson, the son of a former NBA player, started 34 games as a freshman and averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. His 106 blocks on the year obliterated the old school record of 72, set by Ken Johnson in 1985. That number is also tied for the seventh most in Big Ten history in a single season.
He also hit 38 3-pointers and was a nearly 80 percent free throw shooter, displaying an ability to score at all levels of the game.
After the regular season, Jackson was awarded both the Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year by the Big Ten.
His career ended, though, with one of his worst games in a Michigan State uniform. Jackson had just two points and went 0-for-4 from the field in 15 minutes of a 55-53 upset loss to Syrcause in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 18, and afterward, Izzo faced criticism for sitting him for long stretches in the second half.
With Jackson leaving, senior Kenny Goins will likely move to the top of the depth chart heading into the offseason at the power forward spot, although incoming freshman Marcus Bingham figures to challenge for significant playing time next season as well.