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Worth the wait: Jones to return for sophomore season

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Thumbnail image for Jones_Tennessee.jpegAfter a long day of waiting, Terrence Jones gave Kentucky fans the news they were hoping for with a tweet on Saturday afternoon.

"I've been enjoying being a college player and plan on striving to reach my goal of winning (UK's eighth national title)," Jones said. "I can't leave the (Big Blue Nation) just yet."

The full release on the freshman All-American can be found here, complete with quotes from Jones and coach John Calipari.

The decision to withdraw his name from the NBA Draft was not an easy one. The star forward said he was "50/50" on whether to keep his name in the draft as recently as Thursday and said this morning that he spent "a long night tossing and turning" as he continued to wrestle with his decision.

Jones' return means that three of UK's top four leading scorers in 2010-11 will be on the roster next season. NBA-bound Brandon Knight led the Wildcats with 17.3 points per game, but Jones (15.7), Doron Lamb (12.3) and Darius Miller (10.9) give Kentucky plenty of returning scoring punch.

This past season, the highly touted group of Jones, Knight and Lamb had to step in immediately as freshmen and carry a massive scoring load after UK sent five underclassmen to the NBA following a trip to the 2010 Elite Eight. While the trio was successful in doing so, there were bumps along the road as they adjusted to the college game.

UK's 2011 class that features Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer is even more acclaimed than last year's newcomers, but Jones' return will allow them a potentially smoother adjustment to college. They will not be forced to immediately shoulder as heavy a load as Calipari's freshman have each of the past two seasons.

As successful as Calipari has been over his first two years at Kentucky, that success has come without the benefit of a strong core of returning talent in either season. For the first time, he will be merging one of his signature top-ranked recruiting classes with a group of returners who have proven ability at the college level, a scary thought for other contenders in 2011-2012.

Calipari also now has a luxury he certainly did not enjoy last season: frontcourt depth. Jones, Davis and Wiltjer all project to play both power forward and center next year, while Eloy Vargas will be asked to provide quality back-up minutes, something he did much more effectively during UK's postseason run. Even Miller and Gilchrist, who are both 6-foot-7, will be able to play power forward when Calipari wants to go with a smaller lineup.

With Jones a part of the frontline, UK will not have to deal with replacing his Southeastern Conference-leading 8.8 rebounds per game. Davis, Wiltjer and Gilchrist all were very strong rebounders at the prep level, but Jones' 244-pound frame and his ability to pull down the tough defensive rebound is a huge addition to a team that will lack bulk elsewhere.

Now that Jones has made his decision, attention now turns to DeAndre Liggins, the final undecided member of UK's water-testing trio. Liggins is currently participating in a mass draft workout hosted by the New Jersey Nets and has until Sunday to withdraw his name from consideration.

Enjoy the Derby folks.

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