For the third consecutive season, Texas head coach Shaka Smart will send a big man to the NBA Draft who is projected to be a lottery pick.
Forward Jaxson Hayes declared his intention to enter the draft and hire an agent Thursday morning, officially marking the end of his Longhorn career after one season.
“I’m so appreciative of Coach Shaka Smart for pushing me every day to improve and mature, both on the basketball court and as a person,” Hayes said in a statement. “With that being said, I have always dreamed about playing in the NBA. Now that I have the chance to realize that dream, I would like to pursue that opportunity.”
Hayes’ announcement comes after a stellar freshman season that saw him earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors and a spot on the All-Big 12 Second Team. He averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game and also added 2.2 blocks per game as well, which ranked third in the Big 12.
The Loveland, Ohio, native’s rise during his freshman season surprised many outside the Texas program. Coming out of high school, many college evaluators viewed Hayes as a long-term project because of his limited high-level basketball experience. In fact, Hayes didn’t start a high school basketball game until his senior season.
But in his lone season in Austin, Hayes displayed the same talent and athleticism that catapulted him into an intriguing four-star prospect by the end of his high school career.
His length and leaping ability provided a backbone for the Texas defense all season, and Hayes made strides in his offensive game, particularly in the pick-and-roll. He finished the season with a 72.8 field goal percentage — the highest mark for a Texas player in a single-season.
“I’m really proud of Jaxson for the tremendous attitude he’s demonstrated all year and the unprecedented growth that he’s made,” Smart said. “He’ll always be a part of our Longhorn Basketball family, and we look forward to supporting him in the next steps of his journey.”
Hayes will now focus on preparing for workouts and recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him during the Longhorns’ NIT Championship run. And plenty of scouts will be lined up to evaluate him in the pre-draft process. ESPN rates Hayes as the ninth-best prospect in this year’s NBA Draft.