Although it never was in doubt, the Kansas basketball fan base no doubt breathed a little sigh of relief on Tuesday, when KU officially announced the signing of freshman-to-be Josh Jackson.
Jackson, the top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2016 according to Rivals.com, already is pegged as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and, barring something crazy, will spend just one season as a member of the Jayhawks.
Regardless of how limited his time will be in Lawrence, Jackson still figures to make a major impact on the KU roster, the Big 12 and college basketball in general.
KU coach Bill Self said as much on Tuesday when announcing the signing and it’s clear that the college basketball ceiling for Jackson is as high as any we’ve seen around here in recent years, including Andrew Wiggins.
Since it was the first we’ve heard from Self about his new star-in-the-making, let’s take a little deeper look at what Self said about Jackson and break those comments down into why and how Jackson fits so well at KU.
Self's comments are in bold below, my commentary is in italics after.
“Josh has been a guy that is so respected in all high school circles the last four years.”
This, to me, is a sure sign that KU is getting a young man who is ready for everything that will be thrown at him in the next 10-12 months. Media barrage? Check. Face of the program? You bet. Pressure of playing at KU? No doubt. Chatter about being KU’s latest one-and-done stud and turning pro? Yep. The maturity seems to be off the charts with this guy and I don’t think this will turn into a case of KU getting a player who is a little immature and not ready for life on his own let alone big time college basketball. Jackson seems already to be a grown man and it should be interesting to observe that in the wake of players like Carlton Bragg, Cliff Alexander and even Wiggins.
“He is very similar to Andrew Wiggins. He’s a tall guard that can do a lot of everything. We feel his impact on our program next year will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program.”
Many, including our own Tom Keegan, already have written the inevitable Andrew Wiggins comparison, but it was noteworthy that Self went there. He certainly didn’t have to. And comparing Jackson to a player who was the runner-up in the Big 12 player of the year voting and wound up going No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft certainly is no subtle thing. That, to me, tells you exactly how much faith Self has in Jackson’s ability to handle the spotlight. We all know that Self is a master at handling the mental side of the game and pushing exactly the right buttons with his players at precisely the right times. Starting out with Jackson on this note tells me that Self believes this young man can handle anything.
“He’s extremely athletic but, more importantly, extremely competitive.”
This was interesting to me because I’ve seen it debated a few different places among fans on the Internet. Some have called Jackson an incredible athlete and others have said that he’s more of a quality basketball player and not quite in the category of freak athlete. So here you’ve got Self calling the kid “extremely athletic” and I’m guessing that pretty much ends the debate. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Jackson is anywhere near as athletic as Wiggins (who is?) and that easily could be the part of the debate that’s getting lost in translation.
“He is probably as highly thought of as any recent player to come out of high school because of his competitive nature. We have a very competitive culture at Kansas, but I think it just got improved with the signing of Josh.”
Throughout the years we’ve heard some big time comment and compliments from Self about his teams and individual players. But this might be one of the best. And the kid hasn’t even suited up in a KU uniform yet. We all know how much competing means to Self so to pay a young player like Jackson this kind of a compliment at this stage in his career is about as big as it gets. The important thing to remember here, too, is that Self already signed him and won the recruiting battle. It’s not as if this was just some comment he made to try to woo him to Kansas.
“He’s a guy that everybody enjoys playing with because he is so unselfish but also a guy that can take a game over.”
I’ve been trying to think of a former KU player who also fit this mold and it’s been difficult. A few guys who come to mind include Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Keith Langford, Wayne Simien, Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis. If Jackson winds up anywhere near that company, his one year at Kansas will be memorable.
“Josh has a great feel for basketball...”
This is one area where Jackson seems to differ a little from Wiggins. Wiggins, as you all know, was a freak athlete who dominated competition both in high school and at Kansas by using his physical tools. Simply put, he could run faster, jump higher, jump quicker, and move better than most players on the floor every time he played. If Jackson truly does have a better feel for the game, he should be able to impact the action in ways that go beyond athleticism. We’ve heard he’s a great passer and a better ball-handler than Wiggins. And based on what I’ve learned and what little I’ve seen, he seems to have very good command of what everyone on the court is and/or should be doing. It will be interesting to see if that same “feel” that he already seems to possess translates to Kansas and major college basketball right away.
“His recruitment was fierce and deservedly so. Coach Townsend has done such a good job for a long period of time of making sure Josh and (his mom) were both comfortable and educated on our situation and how Kansas could be a good fit for them.”
Recruit the parents, land the player. It doesn’t always work this way, of course, but it often plays a huge role. And Self and his staff know this — and do this — as well as anybody out there. I also think it’s worth noting Self’s praise for Townsend in these comments. Clearly, Self is the closer when it comes to landing these types of players. But without a strong effort from his staff to lay the foundation and, more importantly, stick with the recruitment every minute of every day and as much as needed, his success rate of landing these highly coveted one-and-dones would not be near what it is. Cool to see Self share the love. It’s that kind of feedback and praise that keeps these assistant coaches working so damn hard in a cut-throat and never-ending endeavor such as pounding the pavement on the recruiting grind.
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.
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.
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.