Josh Jackson's subtle statement at Lakers workout a perfect representation of his competitive grit
I love the month leading up to the NBA Draft, largely because of two things: 1. It gives us plenty of stories to track and follow during the dog days of summer. And 2. I enjoy keeping tabs on all draft rumors and trade talks that surfac up and down the draft board because the NBA, unlike any other professional sport, is a game that can be impacted by the addition of a single player.
Add the right guy, at a position of need, and a team that missed the playoffs a year earlier could jump into the mix right away.
Add the right face to a struggling franchise and an entire city and fan base could suddenly be energized.
Whether this year’s draft — 6 p.m. Thursday night in Brooklyn, N.Y. — has those types of players or not remains to be seen. Markelle Fultz could be one. And it sure seems like Philadelphia is counting on that. Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson could join him.
And then, of course, there’s always the possibility that there’s a Manu Ginobli or Draymond Green waiting in the second round, which is another part of the annual draft experience that makes for compelling stories.
For most KU fans, the stories worth reading only go as far as the Kansas prospects in each draft. Luckily, Bill Self has done a masterful job of putting KU players in the pros of late, delivering lottery talent in seven of the past 10 years, including a five-year streak from 2010-14.
The Jayhawks have been shut out of the lottery in each of the past two drafts — No. 15 overall pick Kelly Oubre came oh-so-close in 2015, missing lottery status by one spot — but KU will climb back in this year, making it eight of the last 11 years, when Josh Jackson is drafted, perhaps as high as second or third.
Frank Mason III also figures to be drafted this week, but it’s Jackson that we’re here to talk about today because one of my all-time favorite Jayhawks to cover recently delivered one of my favorite all-time draft moments and I’m not sure everybody picked up on it.
Pegged as a likely Top 3 pick for months, Jackson skipped the pre-draft combine in Chicago in May and limited the teams with which he worked out individually to just a couple because it’s hard to imagine him falling out of the Top 5.
One of those teams in the Top 5 is the Los Angeles Lakers, who are currently run by former Michigan State & Lakers star Magic Johnson.
Magic loves Jackson. He loved him in high school, did everything in his power to convince him to go to Michigan State and has had nothing but good things to say about the Detroit native every time he’s been asked.
I know there’ll be a ton of pressure on the Lakers to pick Ball at No. 2, but there are plenty of people out there who think Jackson will end up in L.A.
I don’t blame them. Here’s why:
A couple of weeks ago, when Jackson showed up to his workout with the Lakers, he did so wearing a Kansas T-Shirt.
Big deal, right? I’m sure he’s got a hundred KU shirts, if not more, and it would make sense for him to slap one on to represent the program that helped put him in the position of being a Top 5 draft pick.
But there was something about this particular shirt that caught my eye. Rather than simply saying Kansas basketball or Rock Chalk or any other combination of the most common words you see splattered on KU gear around here, Jackson chose one that said, “NCAA Men’s Sweet 16” and featured the year and a small Jayhawk at the bottom.
Again, big deal, right?
Actually, it was. As you’ll recall, it was Johnson’s Michigan State team that Jackson and the Jayhawks defeated to reach the Sweet 16. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Jackson chose it on purpose.
That’s just the kind of cut-throat competitor he is. Rather than being in awe of Johnson and bowing at his feet, thanking him for the mere opportunity to even show him his basketball abilities, Jackson showed up with some swagger and an edge, the kind that a guy like Johnson would probably love to have on his team.
As subtle as the gesture was, I would bet good money that Magic picked up on it.
If he did, and if the Lakers were at all actually considering taking Jackson at No. 2, a moment like that certainly could go a long way toward making the decision final.
That’s a bold move and a simple declaration from Jackson to Johnson that says, “I’m a bad man and you want me on your team.”
Time will tell if that happens.