Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Tom Keegan: Josh Jackson an overachiever and great talent all in one

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) roars after a bucket and a foul during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) roars after a bucket and a foul during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.


Pests on a basketball court don’t stand 6-foot-8. They’re 5-8. They don’t make it to the top of the national high school recruiting rankings. They make the team on the last cut in high school because they forced their way onto the roster with sheer hustle.

A pesky pest doesn’t play that way because it’s how he dreamed of playing from the moment he made his first basket as a small child. He does it because if he relented for a minute, he would have to sit and watch more talented athletes hog all the minutes.

So how do you explain Kansas freshman Josh Jackson? You don’t. You just enjoy watching him play in the face of his opponent, stealing rebounds, passes, loose balls.

Regardless of the strength of the foe, Jackson plays as if tryouts have come down to the final cut and his ability to disrupt the opponent represents his best chance to see his name posted on the locker room door along with the rest of the taller, more skilled, more naturally gifted basketball players.

Jackson is what happens when the spirit of an overachiever percolates inside a remarkable athlete. Put him on the perimeter with two extremely talented, experienced, tough guards in Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, and watch him get better right before your eyes.

Jackson makes for an interesting study in contrasts.

If you’re lost in a maze of hallways trying to reach Horejsi Center, Jackson’s the one who will stop and point you in the right direction. At press conferences, he consistently reveals that he’s bright and polite.

And then the game starts and something inside of him changes. The beast within takes over.

Maybe he pumps adrenaline at an abnormal rate. Whatever the cause, his motor runs extremely hot and he becomes hyper-focused on how to gain possession of the basketball when the other team has it, or when it’s in the air after either being passed or shot, or when it’s on the ground in nobody’s hands.

And then there are his blocked shots out of nowhere, or his steals on outlet passes because he hovered. His fingerprints are all over a basketball game.

Coach Bill Self praised Jackson’s ability to pass from the middle of the zone and at the start of the break after he helped Kansas to blow out UMKC, 105-62, with 19 points, 12 rebounds (six offensive) and five assists Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Self comment about Jackson that stood out the most: “He’s just now starting to get it.”

That’s pretty scary.

Jackson’s eagerness to spend so much time near the basket speaks to his intelligence. Too many prospects think the best way to impress NBA scouts is to show that a perceived weakness is actually a strength. Jackson’s jumper trails the rest of his game. Many in his situation would go out of their way to showcase it to try to show it’s better than advertised. In reality, what scouts look for are athletes smart enough to figure out the best way to make as many winning plays as possible during a game. Jackson passes that test nightly, which makes him a terrific teammate.

He works on the jumper behind the scenes and in fact made a nice one in Tuesday’s game, but most of his shots came closer to the hoop.

Jackson was smart to join a team with two terrific guards established enough not to be star-struck when he walked on campus. Quite the contrary.

“I remember giving him a lot of crap this summer about him not being able to shoot,” Graham said. “It was when he first came in, playing pickup, telling him that he can’t shoot, just trying to get in his head. I think he got in the gym and started putting up shots. It looks weird, but it goes in, so we just tell him to keep shooting it.”

Jackson’s three-point shot has a long way to go, but it’s not as if he’s in denial about that, as evidenced by his only attempting 19 in nine games. He has plenty of time to fix that and NBA scouts aren’t going to hold it against him if he keeps his game inside the arc at the age of 19.

Again, Jackson doesn’t appear as if he’s worried about what scouts are thinking. He’s thinking about making winning plays, which makes him a winner, an extremely entertaining winner to watch play basketball.


Scott Proch 5 years, 8 months ago

You know we are blessed to have so many highly rated players come through our doors and the hype so often ends up being just that during their short stays here. Not this time. Josh playing with reckless abandon to go with all that talent and smarts is simply a joy. He's really everything I'd hoped Carlton would bring (and still think he can) this year. Hope this team keeps the aggressive have fun mindset they seem to have here in December. Rock Chalk!

Tom Keegan 5 years, 8 months ago

Good point on the have-fun part of it. It's obvious they really enjoy playing together and that's not going anywhere. They know only will get to spend one year together and if anything it won't seem long enough to them.

Glen Miller 5 years, 8 months ago

We are blessed, almost spoiled to have this team to cheer on as fans..... The sense of brotherhood seems to resonate strongly from season to season, but this year is different. Not only do these guys have each others backs but they think alike on the court so well. They are playing within the flow of the game and executing at a high level, albeit in spurts. The spurts are much more sustained and explosive this season. Our backcourt is just flat out spectacular. No bones about it. It is joyous to watch as a fan! Still, they are feeding into the post and trying to get our bits rolling. Taking over when they need to, but realizing that they need Lucas, Bragg and Az to play at a high level. Coach Self has embraced the small ball more this year and it is paying dividends. I think our potential is there to cut the nets down and these guys are fighting for every inch. Jackson has that junkyard dawg in him and he's got two running mates next to him in Mason and Graham that are leading the charge. Frank is National Player of the Year leader in my eyes and Jackson is well on his way to Freshman of the year. I am pumped for this season!

Marius Rowlanski 5 years, 8 months ago

I think we will get the play we need from the front court. You can almost see Bragg thinking through every play instead of going with his instincts, Az is just young but steadily improving and when Lucas gets back to 100%, we've seen what he is capable of.

Henry Joseph Hofmeister 5 years, 8 months ago

I almost think it is good that Carl is lagging. Dok is improving so quickly that if Carlton and Landon get their game together next month we will be unstoppable. IF they can take alley00ps like dok is used to now.

Dale Rogers 5 years, 8 months ago

I think on top of all the talent this young man possesses his mother, Apples Jones, deserves a lot of credit for instilling many of those attributes in him that make him a good person and a good player.

Harlan Hobbs 5 years, 8 months ago

Absolutely, Dale. Very incisive article, Tom.

Ray Buckingham 5 years, 8 months ago

Best article Keegan has written. Couldn't quite connect all the dots on what made Jackson so special on the court, but playing like you are trying to earn the last spot on the team in try-outs every game is hitting the nail on the head. Well put, Tom. Obviously, this carries over into his off the court life too. Wonderful student-athlete!

Marius Rowlanski 5 years, 8 months ago

This is an end of the season discussion but I wonder where Josh will fall in the list of all time talents to play at KU.

Mike Greer 5 years, 8 months ago

The dynamic has changed so much over the years, how do you define "all time"? Regardless of how the season ends, it certainly appears at this point in time Josh is going to be a big part of that outcome. However, as a one and done, how do you compare him to former Kansas greats, or even his contemporaries for that matter?

Andrew Wiggins is probably the best one and done we've had and I don't even know how you can compare Josh with Andrew. Wiggins was on a very inexperienced team, seems like that was one of the years where the entire starting lineup was new, while Jackson comes into a very experienced lineup with three returning starters from last season, two seniors (Lucas & Mason) and one junior (Graham), plus very talented junior Svi and experienced sophomore Bragg, among others coming off the bench. I don't know how you can rate these two guys against each other, much less an all time list of talented players. Just something that I think is difficult regardless of the time of year. It's like comparing Babe Ruth to Ken Griffey Jr., it's a different time and different situation.

Marius Rowlanski 5 years, 8 months ago

Agree 100%. I was thinking that very thing. NCAA success, years at KU, record books, NBA success - I'm not sure how to define 'all time'.

Henry Joseph Hofmeister 5 years, 8 months ago

On a tangent this makes me wonder if the "freshmen can't play" rule might be an interesting idea in retaliation to the NBA 1year rule. One and done seems like a huge waste of money and time recruiting only for powerhouse universities. Lets be real, these kids aren't learning a dang thing, students are just paying extra to watch them and blackout.

Sam Burns 5 years, 8 months ago

Good article Tom. One of, if not the best of yours, I've read. But, don't forget the way Lagerald and Svi blend in with the first two and Josh. It's the least drop off with guard subs that I remember in a long time. We're very lucky to have these guys!

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