Mission Accomplished: KU's Josh Jackson makes most of summer, ready for next step

Red Team guard Devonte' Graham has his dunk stuffed at the rim by Blue Team guard Josh Jackson on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center.

Red Team guard Devonte' Graham has his dunk stuffed at the rim by Blue Team guard Josh Jackson on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Despite meetings with Magic Johnson and Michigan State and overtures from Arizona and other college basketball powerhouses, freshman forward Josh Jackson chose to play his college ball at Kansas.

The reasons were many and ranged from KU’s storied tradition and proven track record of developing NBA players to the style of coaching he expected to get from Bill Self.

With summer school behind him, the fall semester in full swing and the official start of the 2016-17 season a little more than a month out, Jackson already has been able to get feedback on several of the factors that influenced him to pick Kansas in early April. So far, Jackson’s KU experience has lived up to what he visualized all those months ago.

“Everything and more,” Jackson told the Journal-World between photo shoots at Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday afternoon. “I love it here. It’s a great place to be.... It’s starting to feel like home.”

The 2016 recruiting class’ No. 1 ranked player comes to Kansas with more than a little hype. Scrutinized and analyzed to the Nth degree in every aspect of his game for the past few years, the long and lean freshman from Detroit knows the spotlight is fixed on him. But, so far at least, he has proven to be one cool customer in the face of such potential stress.

“There’s always gonna be a little bit of being nervous when a guy comes in with so much pressure on him,” Jackson admitted. “But I really trust my teammates and I believe in ’em and I trust myself and I think that we’re gonna have a really good team this year.

“My main focus is winning. And I know as long as we’re winning games I don’t have anything to worry about.”

In town throughout the summer to take classes, play pick-up games and connect with his new teammates, Jackson took full advantage of every opportunity.

But the one area that Jackson may have exceeded even his own expectations was in the weight room, where he added 14 pounds to his 6-foot-8 frame just this summer.

Jackson arrived in Lawrence at 187 pounds. He currently weighs 201. And he isn’t planning on stopping there.

“Probably about 8-10 more pounds,” he said before adding, “It’s been huge (to be here in the summer). I feel like I built a couple bonds and relationships with a couple of teammates and definitely got better and gained a few pounds. That’s what I was really looking for out of the summer, so mission accomplished.”

With the summer portion of what is likely to be his lone year of college out of the way, Jackson is starting to feel the buzz that precedes the arrival of every college basketball season. Despite all of the hype and accolades that have accompanied him wherever he has gone, at his core Jackson is still just a young man who loves to play ball.

“For so many years growing up, I’ve just been watching college basketball on TV and rooting for different teams every year and it just feels good to finally be here and have an opportunity to play myself,” he said.

It won’t count for real, of course, until the regular season kicks off in early November, but Jackson said he could tell what’s coming based on the way the vibe within the program changed earlier this week, when classes started and the Jayhawks had their first team meeting of the season.

“It definitely feels different,” Jackson said. “But I think it’s a little too early for me to really say that because I know things are going to change even more pretty soon. In about a couple months, it probably will be the most difficult and important season I’ve ever had.”