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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Consistency, competititve fire made KU’s Jackson top freshman in blue blood showdown

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) comes in for a breakaway dunk during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) comes in for a breakaway dunk during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Facing a couple of familiar friends from his AAU days, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson dropped 20 and 10 at Rupp Arena on Saturday night and helped lead No. 2 Kansas to a 79-73 victory over fourth-ranked Kentucky and fabulous freshmen Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo.

Asked after the victory how it felt to go head-to-head against guards Fox and Monk on a stage far bigger than any the trio ever experienced during their prep days, the still-smiling but ever-composed Jackson talked more about the experience and less about his team’s good fortune.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Jackson said. “Both those guys are great athletes, great players. The thing I really like about them is they’re both competitors. They really want to win and I knew it was gonna be a fun game coming out. I knew neither side was gonna give up no matter how much the other team went up. It was gonna be a fight to the end.”

On a night when big time players made big time plays for both sides, Jackson was arguably the most consistent performer. He tallied 10 points in each half, scored early and scored late, and lifted the Jayhawks both with his outside jumper and scrappy play around the basket.

His 10 rebounds were a game high and they came on the heels of a night when he grabbed just four boards in a Kansas loss at West Virginia last Tuesday. After that one, KU coach Bill Self called out Jackson for only getting four rebounds “in a big-boy game like that.” Rather than pout, Jackson listened.

“I think it’s just one of my jobs on the team,” Jackson said. “Just always try to get to the glass, help the big guys out. Even (KU guards) Frank (Mason) and Devonte’ (Graham), they go a lot too. They got some real key rebounds. It’s just a team thing.”

Therein lies possibly the most impressive part about what Jackson has accomplished during his lone season of college basketball. An unquestioned Top 5 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, it would have been easy for Jackson to come to Kansas, go through the motions and get out of town without ever putting down roots. But he hasn’t done that.

The 6-foot-8 star-in-the-making from Detroit has made Lawrence home and, perhaps more importantly, made this Kansas team his top priority.

With Jackson, it’s not about counting shots, getting his or impressing people in the stands. Those things matter. But they’re all secondary to his main goal — winning.

His skills have forced the college basketball world to take notice. His personality has endeared him to the Kansas fan base. And his teammates have had a front-row seat to enjoy both.

“He’s an amazing player,” said fellow-freshman Mitch Lightfoot of Jackson following Saturday’s win. “But an amazing kid, too. I love being friends with him.”

While Jackson’s demeanor does not always scream cut-throat assassin, every once in a while he has a game where he showcases his immense talent and reminds everybody watching of all of the things can do. Nearly all of it comes within the flow of KU’s game plan and he never deviates from that team-first mindset. But it’s there. And it shows. And it shines bright.

That night was Saturday night, in front of 24,418 rabid Kentucky fans gunning to set a world record for noise and send the Jayhawks home limping. But Jackson never blinked. In fact, he seemed to love it.

“We knew there was gonna be a point in time where we were down and trying to come back,” Jackson said after the victory. “The thing that we really just had to do was keep believing in each other and never stop fighting.”

Mission accomplished.

Comments

John Brazelton 4 years, 8 months ago

Jackson was the most consistent and fearless player in the game. In the first half when everyone else was too tight to do anything productive, he kept scoring, passing and rebounding.

Michael Sillman 4 years, 8 months ago

For Jackson's sake, I hope Self keeps playing Coleby even when Bragg is off suspension. He provides what this team really needs, another big man that plays like a big man.

When Coleby sets a screen for Jackson, it's a straight shot to the hoop. Coleby also was able to bang with the Kentucky bigs underneath.

Lightfoot will be a good player in a year or two after some gym work but he is not a big man right now. As has been pointed out, Bragg is not really a big man and is playing out of position.

Whenever Lucas leaves the floor, it better be Coleby who's coming on.

Humpy Helsel 4 years, 8 months ago

I do not understand the deal with Coleby. Is it the knee? Practice effort? When he has gotten minutes, he looks solid to me. Not great. Solid with a true big body. He provides a physical presence Carlton just doesn't provide when he is in there by himself with Landen on the bench.

Steve Macy 4 years, 8 months ago

I was never the player or athlete that Coleby is, but did have an ACL blowout. The hardest thing was trusting it, and second hardest was getting to the point of no swelling after exertion. It could be one of those that is slowing him down. He looked good, in a limited role, on Saturday.

Craig Alexander 4 years, 8 months ago

One of the things that Jackson has that the others on Kentucky don't is solid experience alongside him. We might not always get what we expect out of the freshmen coming in but when Self has experience playing alongside them, it forces them to mature faster than a group of freshmen. Mason and Devonte aren't going to let him slack but when you combine that with his insane competitive desire to win, you see a phenomenal team concept. Can't wait to continue seeing them all grow.

Mike Greer 4 years, 8 months ago

I've watched the guys closely, I tend to obsess with not playing smart, silly mistakes can cost the game in so many cases. Having the experience on the court with Josh has certainly helped him avoid many of the inevitable freshman mistakes, mistakes some of the Kentucky freshmen made. He still makes a few, but I thought the game against Kentucky with all their talent, brought out his best game of the season so far. It wasn't mistake free, but was a very solid game. Perhaps the biggest mistake of the game for Josh was the foul late in the game on a 3 point attempt. The foul was late and it wasn't a basket, but those 3 free throws all went down, cutting into a somewhat precarious lead. You could tell by the look on his face, he would like to have that one back, so it was a learning experience.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 8 months ago

Nice Mike. I thought one of the indicators was when UK went up by double digits in the 1st half, Monk started talking trash and maybe lost focus on the task at hand. It was then that KU started getting back into it.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 8 months ago

There's nothing sweeter than seeing someone lose after talking trash. I'm so sick of that crap, and it's great to see someone get his comeuppance.

BTW, does anyone else find it amusing that Lightfoot refers to Jackson as a kid when I believe Jackson is older than Lightfoot?

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