Pepperdine's Kessler Edwards declaring for 2021 NBA draft

Edwards goes to work in the post, gets the and-1 for Pepperdine (0:23)

Pepperdine's Kessler Edwards gets the ball in the paint and backs up his defender to the basket, then makes his move and gets the and-1 to drop. (0:23)

Pepperdine junior Kessler Edwards is entering the 2021 NBA draft, but will maintain his college eligibility and retain the option to return to school, he told ESPN Friday.

"It's every basketball player's dream to play in the NBA, and that's right here in front of me so I'm going to give everything I have to do it. I'm testing the waters for now and won't be hiring an agent," he said. Edwards, the No. 48 prospect in the ESPN 100 NBA draft rankings, was named first-team all-conference in the WCC after a strong season in which he averaged 17.2 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 38% for 3. Pepperdine defeated Coastal Carolina to win the College Basketball Invitational in late March, with Kessler being named tournament MVP.

"Most of it was just having confidence in myself. The skill and talent were there. My mindset is something that I've been working on as of late. I got better at towards the end of the season. Believing in myself and my abilities," he said.

The 20-year-old Edwards is intriguing to NBA teams due to his combination of size, defensive versatility, and outside shooting. He converted 40% of his 3-pointers on his college career while ranking as one of the best free throw shooters in the country this season at 88%. He shows outstanding awareness defensively off the ball and covers a great deal of ground on the perimeter, posting 1.7 blocks and 1.2 steals per-40 minutes in his time at Pepperdine.

Edwards doesn't turn 21 until August, making him younger than many sophomores currently projected to be drafted. He rates highly on some NBA team analytics models due to his youth, shooting percentages and block/steal rates. He improved from year to year and appears to have upside to tap into as a versatile two-way wing/forward who can space the floor and defend multiple positions.

While Edwards is maintaining his college eligibility for now, it sounds unlikely that he'll be returning to Pepperdine.

"I don't think there's a number in particular that I need to stay in the draft," he said. "I'm hoping to receive interest from multiple teams and assurances that I would getting a solid deal and not end up being a free agent that no one picks up. I'm planning on going pro going through this thing. I feel like most of these teams haven't seen me in person and the work I'm doing getting ready in terms of my body, measurements and how I play on the court."

Edwards first emerged on NBA radars after being invited to USA Basketball's U19 training camp in 2019, following his freshman season at Pepperdine. He was one of several players who have either been drafted or currently projected to be drafted who did not make the final roster cut for the FIBA U19 World Championship, a list which includes Onyeka Okongwu, Zeke Nnaji, Jay Scrubb, Sharife Cooper, Jared Butler and Josh Christopher. Edwards says his week in Colorado Springs was an eye-opener and played a significant role in his development.

"That was my first real experience playing with the nation's top players," he said. "Coming from the Inland Empire and playing for Prodigy Elite and, I didn't compete on the AAU sneaker circuit so that taught me an important lesson. Understanding what it takes and having a belief that I can compete with anyone in the nation. That was a fun experience. I had never been around so many talented players."