Josh Jackson better set up to succeed than previous KU wings


It’s a dangerous and somewhat foolish endeavor to put expectations of any kind on incoming college freshmen, but most of us just can’t help ourselves, can we?

Whether you’re talking about the type of insane hype that surrounded Andrew Wiggins — which would’ve been there wherever he chose to go to school — or the more tempered hopes put on guys like Wayne Selden, Cole Aldrich, Drew Gooden and dozens of others, fans, media members and even the coaches and players always seem to have some notion of what they expect to get from their shiny new Jayhawks.

That certainly is and will continue to be true of Josh Jackson, the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2016, who, minutes ago, picked Kansas over Arizona and Michigan State.

But it seems to me that whatever lofty expectations are tossed onto the shoulders of the 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing player who likely will fill Selden’s role in KU’s starting lineup next season, Jackson is in the best position of any KU wing in recent memory to live up to them.

Here’s why.

Team EZ Pass' Josh Jackson #11 in action against Team Doo Be Doo in the Under Armour Elite 24 game on Saturday, August 22, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Team EZ Pass' Josh Jackson #11 in action against Team Doo Be Doo in the Under Armour Elite 24 game on Saturday, August 22, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Jackson will be set up to succeed better at Kansas than any wing player since Ben McLemore because of the supporting cast around him.

And, with all due respect to how great McLemore was as a red-shirt freshman during the 2012-13 season, the hype attached to him was not anything close to what we saw with Wiggins, Selden, Kelly Oubre and, of course, now Jackson.

Like McLemore, though, Jackson will be surrounded by a veteran group of quality players who not only know how to play for KU coach Bill Self but also how to navigate the wild world of college basketball.

That can only help — be it in terms of taking the target off of Jackson’s back or in the mentor-student capacity — as Jackson brings his insane athleticism, killer outside shot and all-around impressive game to Lawrence for what figures to be his only season of college basketball.

Just think about KU’s backcourt for a minute. From Day 1, Jackson will be playing next to Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, a senior and a junior who have the skills and mindset to make plays for themselves and others and the experience to help show Jackson the way and push him to match their focus, tenacity and hunger.

Picture this: Mason attacks the paint and kicks to a wide open Jackson on the wing. After the catch, Jackson will have a few options. 1. Knock down the open jumper with space and time to step into that smooth shot. 2. Attack the rim while the collapsing defense scrambles to recover. 3. Become a facilitator himself by driving to create and then kicking to Mason, Graham or Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, all of whom can bury open jumpers from anywhere on the floor.

Beyond those on-the-court, in-game advantages, Jackson also will benefit from playing under the leadership of a couple of strong seniors in Mason and Landen Lucas.

McLemore enjoyed similar riches by being plugged into a starting lineup that included seniors Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young, four Jayhawks who finished the previous season on the doorstep of a national championship.

While that team was crazy talented in terms of toughness and experience, the 2016-17 team figures to have the edge in terms of guards who can make plays off the bounce.

Just think about what having one lead guard like that (Sherron Collins) did for all of those players around him on the 2009-10 team. Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed and the Morris Twins all consistently got easy looks and open attack lanes because of the way Collins played the game.

If the combination of Mason and Graham can do that for Jackson — and, in turn, him for them — then KU’s newest one-and-done sensation could easily surpass the production of the others who came before him.

West forward Josh Jackson, from Justin-Siena in Napa, Calif., dunks against the East team during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. The West beat the East 114-107.

West forward Josh Jackson, from Justin-Siena in Napa, Calif., dunks against the East team during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. The West beat the East 114-107.

Here’s a quick look back at the hand dealt to each of KU’s high-profile wings in the past 10 years.

• Wayne Selden (2013-16) — Selden came in at the same time as Wiggins and played with the same lineup. What’s more, because of the presence of Wiggins himself, Selden was forced to play out of position his first season in Lawrence, which not only hurt his own growth and development but also created issues for the team. It was not until his junior year that Selden finally shined and, even then, he had plenty of moments when he disappeared. Though not as physical, Jackson seems to be coming to Kansas with a more advanced game than Selden brought.

• Kelly Oubre (2014-15) — Like Wiggins, Oubre held down the three spot in KU’s lineup and that, again, forced Selden to play the two. Although most of the key players on the roster were a year older than they were when Wiggins played, that did not necessarily make them a year wiser. Mason was much improved, but the Jayhawks replaced the experienced Tharpe with a rookie in Devonte’ Graham and still had a very young core group.

• Andrew Wiggins (2013-14) — Seven players in KU’s rotation during Wiggins’ lone year in Lawrence were sophomores or younger. That includes Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis. The only player on that KU team with any kind of veteran hue to him was junior guard Naadir Tharpe and, although I always thought Tharpe was a good leader, he was not the kind of guard who made others better with his play on the floor. Because of that, Wiggins often had to do too much and even though his insane talent led to some pretty darn good numbers (17 points, 6 rebounds in 33 minutes per game), you can’t help but wonder what those numbers might’ve been with a few tried and tested teammates taking off some of the pressure.

• Ben McLemore (2012-13) — After sitting out the 2011-12 season, McLemore was a star during the 2012-13 season but he benefitted big time from being eased into the role of hot shooter and highlight dunker because of the talent around him. Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford were tough proven perimeter players who were deadly in transition. And Jeff Withey and Kevin Young were so go inside (especially on the glass) that it allowed McLemore to roam free and play wherever he was most comfortable. Jackson could enjoy similar freedom.

• Josh Selby (2010-11) — Though more of a true guard than a wing, Selby’s issue (other than his personal shortcomings) was that he joined a team with too many quality veterans. Don’t get me wrong, if Selby had been as good as advertised, he would’ve played a ton and probably would’ve found his way into the starting lineup. But after a one-game explosion, the Baltimore guard who was ranked by some recruiting services as the No. 1 player in his class did little to back up that ranking and, instead, watched heady veterans like Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Travis Releford and Mario Little dominate the minutes on the perimeter.

• Xavier Henry (2009-10) — Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were a dominant one-two, inside-out punch and everything else kind of fell in line around them. In fact, I’ve heard plenty of talk throughout the past several years from people wondering just how much more Henry could have shown/produced if he had been on a team like the one Wiggins was on. Instead of being leaned on as a primary piece, Henry spent most of his short KU career trying to fit in and fill a small role, which he did well.

• Brandon Rush (2005-08) — Many believed Rush was a one-and-done prospect when he came to Kansas, but he quickly showed that he needed at least a couple of seasons. A big reason for that was the fact that he came in with a bunch of guys who also were learning on the fly. Granted, that group made up the core of Bill Self’s 2008 national title team, but not having a single veteran who did not start out as a walk-on (Jeff Hawkins, Christian Moody and Stephen Vinson all played an unexpectedly big role on this young team) put Rush in the position of having to do more than he might have been ready for back in an era when other college teams still featured upperclassmen with some regularity.

• Julian Wright (2005-07) — Like Rush, Wright came in with that young core of future national champions and although Wright’s confidence and fearless approach to the game helped make him a lottery pick a year before his classmates won it all, Wright also would have benefitted from playing with a couple of veterans like Jackson will during the 2016-17 season.


Ashwin Rao 6 years, 2 months ago

You were certainly prepared for the announcement, Matt! Thanks for your analysis!

Danny Hernandez 6 years, 2 months ago

Almost makes me wonder if Matt had some inside knowledge

Steve Corder 6 years, 2 months ago

Where does 6-5 SG Terrance Ferguson fit in if he chooses KU? Is he on or off the radar?

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago

Was never a strong Kansas lean and won't likely want to compete with Graham, Svi and Jackson for minutes.

Joe Ross 6 years, 2 months ago

Here's an interesting musing. I wonder how people would rank the wings Matt lists in this article from best to worst, and where they think Jackson is going to fit in. Kid hasnt stepped on the court but Id place him in the top 3.

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago

Perry is a wing too, right? Just like Harrison Barnes? Or is Perry really a PG, like Magic...because they played at about the same size?

Dirk Medema 6 years, 2 months ago

Go away. It got pathetically old last week when you endlessly beat the horse or whatever it was you were beating.

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago

Feel free to support Joe's idea. You believe Ellis was wing too?... or feel free to get lost.

Joe Ross 6 years, 2 months ago

I gotta be honest. I hope it lasts a bit. For one, it'll be interesting to see when his pride dips lower than his energy level on the same topic. That kind of defeat is self-inflicted and comes with a bit of humiliation in the end when inevitably his own will power will inform him that the pain of continuing becomes greater than the joy derived from keeping it up. And secondly, the longer this goes on the more he paints himself irrationally, and that is as appropriate a natural consequence as one can hope for.

Allowing him to continue is his own punishment. There's a saying about giving people enough rope to hang themselves...

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago

That was a lot of babble that said nothing...

You avoided the question. Is Ellis on this list. This is your theory Joe. Your sermon on the Mount. Your opus.

You angrily insisted that Ellis plays the same position, has the same skills and the same upside as Barnes, a wing. Thirty infantile replies worth of insistence... Scripture.. Doobie Brothers..

Man up Joe. You should be incensed that Ellis isn't part of this columns discussion.....

Maybe you know your idea was idiotic and it's easier to hide from it with babble? Of course you do...

Joe Ross 6 years, 2 months ago

So by my count (which could be wrong, not making any promises), it looks like if Diallo returns we will have 11 of 13 scholarships filled; if he leaves, we have 10.

The question I'm curious about is how Coach uses those 3 scholarships. After next year, Mason and Jackson and likely Svi will be gone, and Graham will be a senior. So there are needs in the backcourt. But in the front court, Lucas will be lost to graduation after next season, Bragg may declare and leave, and Azubuike may also test the waters.

Seems to me that investing in some program players is wise at this point. Self likes to play 8-9 guys: Bragg, Coleby, Lucas, Azubuike, Lightfoot, Svi, Jackson, Graham, Mason, and Vick (outside looking in) appear to fill out the rotation. Kory Holden will give us 2 years if he transfers here, but he would have to sit a year. I'd spend a couple of schollies on one player who projects to be a program frontcourt guy, and another on a program backcourt player.

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago

One in the front court and one in the back court? Evenly split? One of each? Not two posts or two guards? Wow. Revolutionary.

Should they both be 6'8 220? Because all players the same size play the same position, whatever that position is...and have the same skills..and the same maybe not? Maybe some scripture or song lyrics hold the keys to this puzzle...

Dirk Medema 6 years, 2 months ago

Az has to stay around another year, because he won't be old enough to leave. I think there was an article a week or so ago about it - Definitely 2 and done.

Joe Ross 6 years, 2 months ago

Ah, yes...I remember reading that sometime last week, but thanks for the reminder! I wish all were TAD.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 6 years, 2 months ago

Good question Joe. With Mitch Lightfoot we likely have a program forward and AZ will be around for a couple years at least. Vick could be a program combo guard, but I don't have a sense if he's committed to the program or not.
A transfer guard like Derryck Thorton would be ideal, but one of the reasons he's supposedly transferring is to play closer to home (CA). Regardless of Vick and a potential transfer, we need to be in on the next crop of top guards in 2017 & 2018 as well as another wing since Svi & Jackson will likely both be gone after next year.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 2 months ago

How about Derrick Thornton? He just announced that he's leaving Duke. He'd have to sit out this year, before having 3 years left. He'd fill much the same practice role as the other transfer this year, and would be that much better filling in for Frank in 2 years.

There's a PG from OK that is highly rated and high on KU that would be real nice as well. IMO, that's the most important position/recruit, and has been the difference between making it deep in March/April or not. Self will always have enough players to fill the other roles, even if he has to pull a rabbit from his hat.

Jonathan Allison 6 years, 2 months ago

I think that we are positioning strongly to land a guard transfer. I think that Self probably looks like a situation like Thornton's as ideal. A player who has to sit a year by transfer rules but then has 3 years left to play.

Doesn't Coleby have two years left as well?

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago

Coleby has two years. Word is that Thornton's dad is a complete loon..

Brett McCabe 6 years, 2 months ago

I actually thought Selby was a good player. If he had returned for his sophomore season, I believe he would have been a lottery pick.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 2 months ago

Self definitely saw ability in him that rarely shown bright enough. It was the year before Josh that Coach was rewarded for sticking with TT through a bunch of boneheadedness (on the court as much as off) all the way to the NC game. I think there was that same hope for Selby, but something sure didn't click. Wonder if that was part of what led to his ill fated departure.

I also thought/hoped for sure that he would return and excel. Oh well.

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago


You better include Ellis on this list. He was a SF just like Wiggins, Henry etc. He has the same skills as a wing and showed it every game. That quick move to the rim from the 3 point line, the pretty pull up jumper over a defender, the open floor finishing magic...He's going to be a star SF in the NBA.

If you don't believe this Joe Ross will go full loon on you. He'll provide scripture, Doobie Brothers lyrics and board game references to illustrate why Ellis was the very essence of a small forward that Self foolishly played out of position. C'mon Matt. Ellis NEEDS to be on this list. Joe Ross insists.

Rae Bricil 6 years, 2 months ago

Good Article.

I am curious it is stated here that Jackson's Jackson brings his insane athleticism, killer outside shot but over on the star Jesse's interview with Bossi of rivals Bossi states that:

"There’s a little bit of a hitch in his jumpshot, which shows, because he’s not been the greatest free-throw or three-point shooter yet. But it’s not completely broken, and I think that he’s a worker who, when he gets with a college coaching staff, is going to get in the gym and work on things."

Read more here:

just seems a little at odds that one person says he has a killer outside shot and the other says that he is not the greatest outside shooter. wondering which one is more accurate?


Matt Tait 6 years, 2 months ago

Well, given that Bossi has been watching him for years and I've only seen him on highlight videos and in recent all-star games, I supposed you'd have to go with Bossi. But I liked what I saw and sometimes players can be overanalyzed a little bit.

Guess we'll find out.

Rae Bricil 6 years, 2 months ago

true definitely looking forward to finding out--and based on the 10 mins of films that i watched (which obviously makes me an expert now) he does have a little bit of a hitch but they all seemed to go in (as they do in highlight reels)

Jonathan Allison 6 years, 2 months ago

Seems like most scouts indicate (as does Keegan in his column) that Jackson is not as explosive an athlete as Wiggins, or as polished a jump shooter as Wiggins was. Jackson is a better ball handler and a better passer than Wiggins. Though it may be his competitive drive that sets him apart from other elite talents.

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago

I doubt we''l ever see a physical package like Wiggins again. He can do things that one man shouldn't be able to do.

Steve Zimmerman 6 years, 2 months ago

You earned my thumb-up there, Jay. Couldn't agree more till there really is one.

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