Josh Jackson arrived at Kansas amid inevitable comparisons to Andrew Wiggins. Their similar size (6-foot-8), ranking (No. 1 by Rivals) and excuse-me-while-I-kiss-the-sky dunking histories made it impossible not to compare them, and not to wonder which would leave a louder one-year mark on Kansas basketball.
Wiggins had set the bar high for Jackson by averaging 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, earning first-team and freshman-of-the-year honors from the Big 12 and second-team All-American honors.
Jackson cleared the bar set by Wiggins and has a chance to leave him in the dust with a longer, more productive tournament performance.
Jackson plays for a better team than did Wiggins, but the freshman from Detroit’s motor is part of what makes it a better team.
Nothing about the way Jackson has played for Kansas has hinted that he’s a one-and-done player watching the clock, waiting for the required one year of college basketball to expire, even though he absolutely won’t stay beyond this season.
Jackson plays every possession as if losing it amounts to a wasted opportunity at making himself and the scoreboard better. He plays with every bit as much zeal defensively and on the boards as when hunting shots.
His adrenaline seems to flow at a high rate without interruption.
Stats for Jackson/Wiggins: 16.4/17.1 points, 7.2/5.9 rebounds, 4.0/1.5 assists, 3.6/2.3 turnovers, .545/.493 2-pt. pct., .377/.341 3-pt. pct., .559/.775 free-throw pct.
Jackson had a better regular season than Wiggins and won’t have to do anything special to have a better NCAA tournament performance. In his final college game, a 60-57 loss to Stanford, Wiggins totaled four points, four rebounds, one assist and four turnovers and shot 1 for 6 from the field.
Wiggins’ highs were higher than Jackson’s, his lows lower. Wiggins scored more than 23 points in five games with a high of 41. Jackson surpassed 23 points once, scoring 31 at Texas Tech. Wiggins scored in single figures in six games, Jackson three.
As a competitor, Jackson stays in the moment, doesn’t think about the great or awful play he just made, doesn’t ponder what he needs to do to impress NBA decision-makers. He plays in the moment, determined to win that possession. Just as people who live in the moment tend not to be burdened by stress, competitors who stay in the moment tend not to be bothered by the big stage.
“Josh Jackson has probably played about as consistently as any player in the country, I would say, the last two months,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
So consistent, Self pointed out, that he has scored at least 14 points in 16 of 18 games to end the regular season.
“And that's not what he does,” Self said of scoring. “What he does is all the other things, and then the points come as he does all the other things. So, yes, I have every reason to believe that he'll handle everything very well.”