Friday, December 2, 2016


Tom Keegan: Josh Jackson well on way to becoming Bill Self’s best Kansas player

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) hammers home a dunk during the first half of the CBE Classic on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 at Sprint Center.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) hammers home a dunk during the first half of the CBE Classic on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 at Sprint Center.


When I study the faces of those who pay good money to watch Kansas play basketball, I try to guess what plays are replaying in their minds as they move toward various parking lots at home and on the road.

My guess is a higher percentage of those plays were created by Josh Jackson than any player Bill Self has coached in his 14 seasons in Lawrence.

The loudest plays happen closer to the ceiling than most athletes can reach. Remember the tomahawk dunk against UAB in Sprint Center and the blink-and-you-missed-it blocked shot vs. Siena in Allen Fieldhouse?

Jackson also makes more memorable plays on the floor diving for loose balls than most, not a common trait among freshmen ranked No. 1 in the nation in their high school class. Remember that possession he stole at the end of the half when he missed a free throw and hit the floor to retrieve it in time to feed Lagerald Vick a bucket with one second left in the first half of the UNC-Asheville game?

And memorable plays happen when he is on his fast-moving feet, such as that bounce-pass in transition with which he hit Svi Mykhailiuk in the rout of Long Beach State. They also happen when he's on his feet at the other end of the floor. He plays the passing lanes as well as any Kansas player since Mario Chalmers.

He’s so active all the way from the floor to well above the rim at both ends of the floor and in transition in both directions.

Self has brought a number of versatile performers blessed with long arms and quick feet through Lawrence, but I can’t think of one who put his stamp on so many different areas of a basketball game to the extent Jackson consistently does. His ball security and shooting success can run in streaks, but his effort ensures that on off nights in those areas, he’ll still contribute in others. He doesn’t disappear for stretches. You always know he’s on the floor.

It’s not too early to project Jackson as one of three Kansas players, joining Frank Mason III and Devonté Graham, capable of earning Big 12 Player of the Year honors. I was curious if any other player in the conference stuffs a box score with as much variety as Jackson, so I researched the numbers. The answer is no.

The Big 12 tracks the top 20 in scoring and rebounding, the top 15 in assists, steals and blocked shots. No player other than Jackson appears in all five categories, even though he’s not in the top 10 in any one of them. He ranks 11th in scoring (14.1), 17th in rebounding (5.7), 15th in assists (3.3), tied for 10th in steals (1.6) and 13th in blocked shots (1.1).

Only one other Big 12 player appears in four categories. Iowa State’s Deonte Burton ranks 12th in scoring (14.0), first in rebounding (8.5), tied for 15th in steals (1.5) and 12th in blocked shots.

Someone asked 14th-year Kansas coach Bill Self after Tuesday’s 91-61 rout of Long Beach State if he ever has had such a versatile freshman at Kansas.

“No, no, no, he can do more things,” Self said. “He was really good tonight and active. He’s got great vision. He can pass and can alter (shots) and is getting more active defensively. He’s probably as all-around as any freshman we’ve had who can do a little bit of everything.”

Or sophomore, junior, or senior. Game after game, opposing coaches marvel at Jackson’s versatility.

“To me, that spot’s critical,” said UNC-Asheville coach Nick McDevitt of the one Jackson plays. “When these guys play big teams, he’s a guy who can help you rebound because of his size and athleticism. When you play teams that are smaller and wanna really get after you, he’s the the extra ball handler.”

There isn’t anything opponents can throw at Kansas that Jackson can’t help to counteract, even zone defenses. His shot isn’t as advanced as the rest of his game, but he passes so well from the middle of zones he’s capable of making coaches regret using them.

“When you’ve got a big wing like that who can help you on both the glass and beating the press it makes them awfully big and tough to handle when he’s out there,” McDevitt said. “That a kind of size, with (Lagerald Vick) and Josh Jackson throwing over the top of zones and throwing over the top of ball pressure to more size...”

He didn't finish the sentence. Going that far was depressing enough.

Jackson brings a surplus of smarts, talent and desire to the equation, so there is no reason to believe that he will do anything but steadily improve during his one season in Lawrence. Add it all up and that means he is well on his way to becoming the best Kansas player Self has coached.


Craig Alexander 5 years, 8 months ago

I don't feel like I have seen a freshman get this acclimated to Self's system so quickly. Watching him drive, pass, rebound, and just plain getting after the ball is a great sight. This is within the first 10 games to boot. As these guys gel more together as the year progresses, it will be really fun to watch.

Jaston Archie 5 years, 8 months ago

Totally agree, and I don't remember a freshman getting on Self's good side so early. I mean Jackson doesn't even seem afraid of making mistakes and getting pulled, he's just so free out there. I think he knows exactly what pleases Self, like those drives and then kicking it out, unbelievable rebounds and steals, great defense, hustle plays, he's a real life competitor and team player. And when he does mess up, Bill takes him out but puts him right back in the game. This is a special group this year, bc the team morale is really high since everyone plays a lot of minutes as opposed to years prior where they had to compete with one another just to see the floor and then when they got in the game they were pressured to make plays or else ride the bench again.

And the best thing about Josh is that you know when the stakes are highest and the game is biggest, he's going to be the best player on the floor, we saw glimpses of that against Duke at MSG, which bodes well for the Tourney .

Joe Joseph 5 years, 8 months ago

Josh Jackson is the type of OAD KU fans have been clamoring for ever since the trend began. Previous OADs have come in with similar hype but always fell a bit shy of the often unfair and lofty expectations of fans. That's not to say they haven't been productive, but they haven't been this good.

Joe Joseph 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree. But Wiggins had a tendency to disappear and didn't impact the overall flow of the game (on both ends) nearly as much as Jackson.

Embiid took a while to figure it out. And then he got hurt.

Craig Alexander 5 years, 8 months ago

Agreed, they weren't bad. They were both really good but Josh fits the mold of talent and pure aggression/competiveness we want to see. Don't get me wrong, I thought both of those guys were great too.

Jesse Johnson 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree, they were great. Unfortunately it was one of our worst teams though due to youth/inexperience and lack of overall cohesiveness. Jackson has the benefit of stepping into a team with a really good balance of upperclassmen and young talent.

Bryce Landon 5 years, 8 months ago

Bill Self appeared on The Jim Rome Show yesterday. Listen to the interview here:

Kent Richardson 5 years, 8 months ago

Romy has us going for 13 in a row in the Big 10.

Kent Richardson 5 years, 8 months ago

If you study my face Tom you will see recognition of Josh Jackson's, for once, top incoming freshman, hype living up to, skills.

What you may not see is my repeated askance look, unless you can see through the camera on my laptop, every time I look at a box score from an Indiana U game and see OG Anunoby. I think what kind of guard is that? I know, it's only seven games into the season and he's 6'8" and 245 (by the way Big John from the Jimmy Dean song was bulkier). I hope by the time conference games start and my new meds kick in I can move past this.

Jay Scott 5 years, 8 months ago

Great column Keegs. Jackson is a rare talent with even rarer mental readiness.

Tom Keegan 5 years, 8 months ago

Mental readiness. Wish I had thought of that.

Dee Shaw 5 years, 8 months ago

I love Josh Jackson and loved Andrew Wiggins. I think they resemble each other so much. There stats are almost identical in there first seven games at KU. Andrew Wiggins scored 100 points and had 208 minutes in his first 7 games as a Jayhawk. That averages out to 14.29 pts per game and 29.71 minutes per game. For Josh Jackson, he has scored 99 points and has192 minutes of playing time. That averages out to 14.14 pts per game and 27.43 minutes per game. Amazing how close they are. Why is it though that I felt people were never satisfied with Andrew Wiggins and this articles headline is that Josh Jackson could be the best player that Bill Self has ever had. Maybe its expectations or hype. I don't know but for me Andrew Wiggins was the best freshman player I have seen at Kansas in 15 years. He was awesome. Lets see how Josh Jackson finishes his one and done career at Kansas. Good problems to have and talk about as KU fans.

Rae Bricil 5 years, 8 months ago

nice post. i agree that there are many similarities between Jackson and Wiggins. To your question of why people were “never satisfied with Wiggins” I believe has to do with the team each respective player was on. If you look at the key players from Wiggins year you have Selden (Fr), Embiid (Fr), Ellis (So), Black (Sr), Tharpe (Jr) and Mason (Fr)-- they were very young. Therefore, due to this youth and inexperience Wiggins was expected to carry such a large load (at least from fan expectations) and I think this jaded perceptions by some.

Looking at this year’s team with Jackson, there are such experienced and talented players around him that I think it makes it easier for him to succeed. With the emergence of Vick there are five different guards that could possibly lead the team in scoring on any given night. And with this well roundedness Jackson is more well positioned, for a multitude of reasons, to thrive. This is not to say that Wiggins did not but only that Jackson is in a better position, team wise, than Wiggins was. Also, with this balanced attack, and especially having Graham and Mason and so much focus on them, miscues or off nights by Jackson can be better absorbed by team.

Shannon Gustafson 5 years, 8 months ago

Wiggins wasn't very good at making those around him better (via assists, leadership, aggressiveness, etc.) while Jackson has shown so far that he's good or great at all of these things. That's the biggest difference for me. I think Jackson's stats would be MUCH higher if he played with Wiggins' supporting cast and was therefore required to do more to win (assuming he could stay out of foul trouble with the "old" rules).

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 8 months ago

Watching Jackson leaves some/many long time 'Hawk fans thinking he is one of the very best to ever play for the ranks of Chamberlain, Manning and White. Jackson, a gifted finisher around the rim and in the paint, needs to work on his shot away from the paint. However, his FT and 3-Ball techniques needs some heavy duty attention. Because of his mentality and nice wrist pronation, Jackson will also be a great shooter in the NBA. How can a guy this good in so many fundamental areas get so funky with a few critical shooting flaws, i.e. feet at the FT and beyond the 3-pt lines.

Shannon Gustafson 5 years, 8 months ago

The flat footed free throws is certainly an odd habit to have. Shooting free throws flat footed is VERY difficult. No idea how anyone would ever decide that's the best way to do it. Having a funky shooting stroke is much more common and understandable, though also far from ideal.

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm a bit more comfortable with his shooting stroke, i.e. golf's Jim Furyk, than with his feet. I've gotten to the point of watching only his feet on his FTs and long ball. It's the first time I've ever really noticed anyone's feet because it so odd. As great as Jackson is in all the other aspects of basketball, including the mental part, it's that shooting from the FT Line out that could prevent him from being the Number 1 NBA pick this spring. I have no doubt Jackson will correct everything to become a great shooter to match the rest of his game.

Shannon Gustafson 5 years, 8 months ago

Agreed. What makes it weirder to me is that the flat foot thing is so easy to fix. Since he's used to shooting everywhere else on the court without flat feet, it seems like just pointing this out to him and working on it after practice for a few days should create a noticeable improvement.

Harlan Hobbs 5 years, 8 months ago

Excellent post, Jay. In just two sentences, you summarized just about everything regarding Josh. He will be a pleasure to follow for many years to come.

Humpy Helsel 5 years, 8 months ago

Leave it to ole Hump to have to be the Negative Nellie on this story. I think it is a bit premature for even consideration of his coronation as Bill Self's best Kansas player. There is plenty of time for that much later in the year, especially when the Big Dance Bright Lights are on. I do think it is a possibility, but it is just talk just eight games into the season.

Harlan Hobbs 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree, but the headline says that he is "well on his way." That is clearly an accurate description of the current situation, not just because Josh is a great talent, but he is obviously a very special young man, with or without basketball. I'm just about ready to give him the "most well grounded" moniker of any freshman that we have had under Bill Self.

Paul Christiansen 5 years, 8 months ago

i have never in my life seen a guy who can use the backboard like Josh Jackson. He seems to understand all the angles and has a great attitude towards the coaching staff. I think he is settling in at the free throw line. Best freshman player ever.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.