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Texas lottery prospect Jaxson Hayes enters 2019 NBA Draft

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After taking honors as the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, forward Jaxson Hayes is off to the NBA.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Texas Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time in as many years, a Texas Longhorns freshman big man is NBA-bound following his first season on the Forty Acres, with forward Jaxson Hayes becoming the latest one-and-done lottery prospect on Thursday after announcing his decision to enter the 2019 NBA Draft.

“First, I would like to thank God for giving me the opportunity to play this game I love so much,” Hayes said in statement from the school. “Next, I would like to thank my family, the entire Texas coaching staff and my teammates for helping me get to this point in my career. 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. I would also like to thank everyone else who has helped support me. Lastly, thank you to all the Longhorn fans and the people of Cincinnati who have been there cheering me on the whole way.”

“With that being said, I have always dreamed about playing in the NBA,” Hayes continued. “Now that I have the chance to realize that dream, I would like to pursue that opportunity. I am declaring for the 2019 NBA Draft and will be hiring an agent.”

“I’m really proud of Jaxson for the tremendous attitude he’s demonstrated all year and the unprecedented growth that he’s made,” said Texas head coach Shaka Smart, per the school. “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.”

The news of Hayes’ decision to depart from Texas following his debut season was expected as of late, though that wasn’t always the case.

A former four-star prospect, Hayes first stepped foot on the Forty Acres ranked outside of the top 100 nationally. In line with those prospect rankings, his initial projected role was to provide paint-protecting and rim-running upside as a reserve option to sophomore Jericho Sims. But after outscoring Sims by 34 points and rejecting three times as many shots (24-to-8) throughout the first 11 games, Hayes was promoted to the starting lineup just prior to the Big 12 slate.

As a result of the increased role and thus, the increased opportunity to showcase his hyper-athletic skill set, Hayes saw his draft stock soar throughout the conference schedule. Though foul trouble often plagued Hayes, the 6’11, 220-pound paint presence utilized his bouncy nature and 7’3 wingspan to the tune of 16.1 points, 8.5 points, and 3.4 blocks per 40 minutes in Big 12 action.

When the curtains closed on his first and only regular season in Austin, such efforts earned the Longhorns’ budding star honors as the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, along with a spot on the All-Big 12 Second Team, the Big 12 All-Defensive Team, the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team, and the Big 12 All-Freshman Team.

But beyond the accolades and surface stats, which are comparable to those of Mohamed Bamba and Jarrett Allen during their lone seasons with the Longhorns, it’s Hayes’ raw upside that makes him such an intriguing NBA prospect.

Somewhat of your stereotypical late bloomer, Hayes was an unpolished diamond in the rough until after his junior season with Cincinnati (Ohio) powerhouse Archbishop Moeller, which saw him produce only 1.1 points and two rebounds per contest in limited minutes. Between then and now, though, his development has been sudden and substantial; so much so that just months after arriving in Austin as the No. 21 power forward in his class, per the 247Sports Composite, Hayes is projected by ESPN as the best center prospect in the 2019 NBA Draft and as the 10th-best talent overall.

Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, and Sporting News each echo those draft expectations, as Hayes is projected to become the No. 10 pick by each publication.

If those projections prove true, Hayes will follow in footsteps similar to those of the previous two towering interior Texas talents, as Allen was selected with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft before Bamba become the No. 6 pick in last year’s draft.