Josh Jackson won’t play college basketball for long, but while he’s doing so at the University of Kansas, part of his on-court education involves learning how to best carry himself when things don’t go his way.
Back in November, during just his second game with the Jayhawks, Jackson picked up his first technical foul as a collegian on a national stage, with KU facing Duke at Madison Square Garden. Jackson slapped the ball away from one of the Blue Devils during a dead ball, earning a “T” that ultimately kept him off the floor in the closing minutes of a tight game, because it counted as one of his five personal fouls.
Jackson, while not always thrilled with officials’ calls in the weeks that followed, avoided another technical foul until Big 12 play began a little more than a week ago. Then the 6-foot-8 wing did enough to inspire officials to whistle at him on a technicality in back-to-back games.
Publicly, KU coach Bill Self defended Jackson for the “T’s” at TCU and against Kansas State, but Self also worried his star freshman might have developed a reputation for needing to get in the final word with referees.
Now that he has played 15 games for KU (14-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12), Jackson was asked following a tech-free outing against Texas Tech whether he thought he has become a marked man with officials and if he thought he needed to change anything about his on-court persona.
“I honestly don’t think so,” said Jackson, known for his affable nature off the court. “I think I have three technical fouls this year and I can honestly say I deserved one (against Duke). But just trying to move on to the next play a little bit — I think I did a good job of that (versus the Red Raiders).”
In fact, early in the first half of the Tech game, Jackson was called for an offensive foul on a drive to the paint, and though his face showed he didn’t agree with the assessment, he didn’t initiate a conversation with an official to sound off on the matter. What’s more, during the next stoppage in play, Jackson calmly approached a referee for an explanation on the charge call.
“Some refs are different. Some give you a technical foul for a lot less than others will,” Jackson said of his early lessons in navigating conversations with college officiating crews. “You’ve just gotta move on to the next play no matter what, because after they make the call you can’t change it anyway.”
There are bound to be far more intense games than KU-TT on the horizon, so there are no guarantees Jackson will finish his one-and-done season without picking up another technical. Still, he appears to be processing the positives and negatives that come with displaying his fiery side during competition.
Jackson certainly won’t let his past indiscretions — perceived or real — change who he is on the court. But, as his coach also pointed out, he’s too massive a talent to allow technical fouls to become a recurring issue.
It didn’t take Jackson long to find out Big 12 games take on a different level of passion than some of those non-conference undercards KU played in December. An NBA prospect expected to be taken in the first few picks of the draft this coming June, Jackson fouled out of the Jayhawks’ win at TCU, playing just 12 minutes and contributing only four points and two rebounds (both season-lows).
“Guys come out and play a lot harder, especially with Kansas winning the league so many years in a row,” said Jackson, who bounced back with 22 points against K-State and 17 versus Tech, making him the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week. “… There’s a target on our back. Everybody would love to beat us. If you asked any team in this league if they could beat one team, just win one game, I guarantee you they would say us.”
Tuesday night at Oklahoma, the Sooners (6-8, 0-3) will fall into that category. Playing with Kansas on the front of their jerseys and figurative bull’s eyes on their backs might be difficult, but Jackson said he and his teammates don’t mind.
“I think all of us really love a challenge,” he said. “We welcome it and it just really shows us, gives us a chance to see how tough we are and what we really can do.”