‘Back to work’: Jalen Wilson announces he’ll return to KU basketball for sophomore year

photo by: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) reacts after scoring against the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the second half at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 20, 2021. Photo by Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports.

Exactly what the Kansas basketball roster might look like next season became a little more clear on Friday, when Jalen Wilson announced he will return to Lawrence instead of embarking on a professional career this summer.

One of three Jayhawks to test the NBA waters this offseason, Wilson became the first to make a decision on what will come next for him, while KU and head coach Bill Self still await resolutions from Ochai Agbaji and Remy Martin.

“I first want to thank all those who have helped and supported me through the NBA Draft process,” Wilson stated in a KU release. “I received great feedback from the teams and know what I need to work on to improve. With that, I will be returning to Kansas for my sophomore season and plan on being back on campus soon. I look forward to rejoining my teammates, meeting the newcomers and getting back to work.”

A 6-foot-8 wing from Denton, Texas, Wilson emerged during his redshirt freshman season with KU as one of the roster’s most important players, producing 11.8 points a game and a team-leading 7.9 rebounds during his first full season in the rotation.

Self stated in a KU release that the staff and players are “so happy” to have Wilson back with the program, following the young wing’s “terrific” freshman year.

“He did exactly what the process allowed and received great advice on what he needs to work on moving forward,” Self said. “There is no doubt his experience in testing the NBA will benefit him down the line.”

Wilson in June participated in the G League’s elite camp in Chicago, after not being selected as one of the early entrants who got to participate at the NBA combine. He wasn’t projected to be selected in this year’s draft, according to various experts.

With Wilson back, the Jayhawks — for the moment, with Agbaji’s decision still pending — are set to return five key rotation players from the 2020-21 season. Wilson figures to be a crucial contributor again, as he joins David McCormack, Christian Braun, Mitch Lightfoot and Dajuan Harris.

During Wilson’s redshirt freshman year, he ranked second in the Big 12 in rebounding and finished with the second-best rebounding average by a freshman in KU’s record books, trailing only Joel Embiid, who averaged 8.1 boards during the 2013-14 season. Wilson made the Big 12’s all-newcomer and all-freshman teams in 2021, when he produced nine double-doubles.

Self said the team is anticipating “an even more productive sophomore campaign” for Wilson next season.

Wilson’s decision came a full five days ahead of the July 7 deadline for early entrants in the 2021 draft pool. So it should only be a matter of days before Self and the Jayhawks know whether Agbaji and Martin, a transfer from Arizona State, will be part of the rotation, too.

While the Jayhawks are adding four scholarship freshmen to the mix with guards Kyle Cuffe Jr. and Bobby Pettiford, and forwards KJ Adams and Zach Clemence, they’ll also be relying on transfers Joseph Yesufu (Drake), Cam Martin (Missouri Southern State) and Jalen Coleman-Lands (Iowa State).

KU went 21-9 in an abbreviated 2020-21 season, which concluded for the Jayhawks with a second round exit, courtesy of USC, in the NCAA Tournament.

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