Josh Jackson has a chance to be a special KU freshman

DECEMBER 2016 Josh Jackson has heard the hosannas and rave reviews since he began tearing up the AAU, USA Basketball, and high school scene. Jackson, a 6-8 Kansas guard, was rated the No. 1 player in the 2016 class and named co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game while averaging 26.9 points, 13.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game at Prolific Prep in Napa, California, in 2015-16.

KU coach Bill Self was the latest to magnify the hype when he signed Josh Jackson last May after a long and intense recruiting battle in which the Detroit native chose the Jayhawks over Michigan State and Arizona, which immediately lifted Kansas into a sexy Final Four pick.

“Josh has been a guy that is so respected in all high school circles the last four years,” Self said. “He is probably as highly thought of as any recent player to come out of high school because of his competitive nature.

He is very similar to Andrew Wiggins. He’s a tall guard that can do a lot of everything. We feel his impact on our program next year will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program. He’s extremely athletic but more importantly extremely competitive. We have a very competitive culture at Kansas, but I think it just got improved with the signing of Josh. He’s a guy that everybody enjoys playing with because he is so unselfish but also a guy that can take a game over.”

Josh Jackson remains thrilled with his decision to attend KU.

“I felt like this place was special,” he said. “I felt like I could get the most out of being here, on and off the court. I felt like coach Self really cared about me – more than just a basketball player. I really felt a family feeling here and I still feel that today. I think that’s one of the most amazing parts about the University of Kansas.”

Josh Jackson, who was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week on Nov. 21 for his play in victories over No. 1 Duke and Siena (13.0 ppg, 80 percent field goal shooting, and scored 11 of 15 points in second half versus the Blue Devils) and MVP of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic (a career-high 22 points against UAB and first career double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds versus Georgia), has a chance to be an “amazing” player like Wiggins, the former KU star and NBA 2015 Rookie of the Year for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He knows about the comparisons to Wiggins from Self and other basketball gurus. After all, they the same height, both were the No. 1 player in their high school class, and both great athletes.

However, while Jackson is “extremely athletic,” he doesn’t possess the freak athleticism of Wiggins. They both shoot similar from the perimeter, though Jackson is a better ball handler, passer and playmaker, while Wiggins is the superior finisher at the rim.

Jackson, who played his junior and senior seasons at Prolific Prep, is flattered by the comparisons, but he’s not worried about being the second coming of Andrew Wiggins. He’s just trying to be the next Josh Jackson.

It’s an honor to be compared to such a great player,” said Jackson, the Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year and a member of the Naismith National Player of the Year Watch List and John R. Wooden Award Watch List.  

I looked up to Andrew when he was in high school a little bit, still talk to him here and there. He offers me advice all the time. But I think I’m my own player. (We) are similar in some ways, but I think we’re really different.” 

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said Jackson doesn’t take a backseat to Wiggins.  “Josh Jackson is every bit as good as Andrew Wiggins,” Bilas said.

Jackson had the best game of his young career against UAB at the Kansas City Sprint Center on Nov. 21 with those 22 points while adding seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in 33 minutes. Jackson also had some thunder dunks, including one show-stopping slam that got the crowd roaring.

He definitely punished the rim throughout the night.

I’ve heard (Oklahoma City Thunder superstar guard) Russell Westbrook say, ‘I dunk the ball so hard that nobody challenges me when I go to the basket,’ so that’s what I’m trying to do,” Jackson said.

UAB coach Robert Ehsan was extremely impressed with Jackson’s play.

I saw him in high school, as most people did. But the more I’ve watched film on him, he’s an extremely talented player,” Ehsan said. “His versatility is what I’ve been surprised with. How many different things he can do on the floor: right hand, left hand, and drive, post-up. Obviously, he is very athletic. I think he’s a tremendous player.”

So does Self.

Certainly he’s an unbelievable talent that’s starting to get more and more comfortable all the time,” Self said. “There’s a lot of things he can work on to get better obviously, but he’s a talented kid. I don’t know if we’ve had anybody of that size, that good with the ball.”

Jackson’s road to greatness began as an 8-year-old playing one-on-one against his parents in their backyard. These were fun, yet incredibly intense games as Jackson’s competitive fire was born.

They would never take it easy on me. They would always foul me kind of hard, block my shot all the time,” Jackson said. “They would beat me all the time. It really made me mad sometimes because I always wanted to win. I think that’s where I really got it (competitiveness) from.”

Jackson learned from his parents’ lessons and grew as a basketball player and person. Every time he got knocked down, he got back up. Every time he got his shot blocked, he took the ball back hard to the rim. He improved his game and eventually beat his mom, Apples Jones, in a one-on-one game when he was 13 years old.

She held her own,” Jackson said as the two finally stopped playing after Josh’s first big win over his mom, a defining moment for him and his career as he began to attract recruiting attention in the eighth grade.

Jones was a great basketball player and fierce competitor herself, competing for Allen County (Kan.) Community College and then UTEP. She played an instrumental role in teaching her son about the nuances of the game and also about life. Jackson, who calls her his “hero,” remains grateful the two are so close. Jones actually stayed in Lawrence when Jackson first arrived in town in June for summer school, helping her son get settled and acclimated to college life.

I couldn’t even tell you how much,” Jackson told reporters then about what his mom means to him. “She’s just been an amazing woman in my life, amazing person. (She’s) helpful so much, always supportive. Obviously, she’s here right now. She doesn’t have to be here, but she loves me and wants to support me so that’s why she’s here. She has been really helpful to me around the campus. She’s been through her college years, and she tells me what to look out for, what to do, what not to do.”

Jones actually played a big role in helping Jackson with the recruiting process, but never pressured her son to choose Kansas or any other school.

“Her input was always the same; she wouldn’t make the decision for me, but she wanted me to end up somewhere where she knew that they cared about me more than just basketball, more than just me dribbling the ball,” Jackson said. 

Josh Jackson is embracing each moment of his college experience

It could be a magical year for him and the Jayhawks before he surely jumps to the NBA after this season as a possible No. 1 overall draft pick. He publicly stated before the season that his ultimate wish was to go 40-0. That dream was quickly dashed with an overtime loss to Indiana in the season opener on Nov. 11.

Jackson will be a huge key if that goal is to become reality. He is multidimensional, has an incredible feel for the game, improving as a shooter, and is extremely mature and worldly for a freshman. Self realizes this is a truly special player who could go down in his one year at Kansas among the school’s all-time great freshmen like Wiggins and Danny Manning, who remained for four years.

Josh is everything he’s advertised in our eyes,” Self said. “He’s got a chance to be one of the elite players in the country as a freshman. Very competitive, tough minded. He has a chance to be one of the special freshman the program has ever known.”

Article by David Garfield

For more KU articles, visit http://kcsportspaper.com/category/college-teams/ku/

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