Behind The Scenes With Frank Jackson

Last week the Blue Devils got a big boost to the class of 2016 with the commitment of five star scoring guard Frank Jackson. Following the decision we sat down with both the player and his father, Al, to discuss what caused them to pull the trigger on the commitment and to get the full story on the Duke recruitment.

What does it mean for you seeing your son following his dream to become a Duke University student-athlete?

Al Jackson, father of Frank Jackson:  It’s a dream come true. I’m from the Washington, DC area. Big ACC guy who loved Maryland growing up.  I went to Lefty Driesell’s camps growing up and didn’t like Duke when I was coming up, but I definitely respected Coach K and the program that he was building. It’s a dream for a parent to have their kid be wanted and desired by arguably the best coach in college basketball. It’s just awesome, it’s unbelievable.


So when Duke starts coming into Frank’s recruiting picture—what’s going through your mind?

What’s going through my mind is that this kid is pretty special, you know? They don’t offer very many scholarships the way other programs do. They are very selective with the kids that they go after. So the fact that our kid was on the list was an honor, it really was an honor. It was a privilege to even be considered by that school. I hope Frank was able to convey that as well, we are very fortunate for him to be in that position. It also highlighted for me that my son is a pretty good basketball player.


What’s it been like for you seeing all the recruiting rankings and attention and exposure come Frank’s way this past year?

It’s been unreal. I’ve been more in awe of it than he has. The fact that he’s been so even keeled about it was amazing to see. He never got a big head about it and he just continued to want to be a teenager and just continue to get better as a basketball player and not get all caught up in the hype. I think one of the things that we did differently than most kids did at this point is we clearly laid out what our criteria was in terms of what types of schools did he want to go to. Basically we sat down and wrote down on a piece of paper and asked Frank what his three or four objectives that he had in picking a school. Once you have that, the list automatically shrinks because there’s only so many programs that fit the criteria on the sheet. We were very selective with who we allowed to talk to Frank because there were a ton of calls but with many of them we told them thank you for your interest in our son, but you are more or less wasting your time. That allowed us and them to move on and Frank could just focus on the Stanford’s, the BYU’s, the Duke’s, Notre Dame’s, programs like that.


So with that—how did the process start with Duke?

So Tim Davis is Frank’s AAU Coach and right after the Chris Paul Camp last August in North Carolina, I picked Frank up at the beach, we were visiting some friends in the area there and we drove to North Carolina and we stopped in Durham and took some pictures outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium and went to the football stadium and we saw some of the campus which he thought was really cool. Then after the camp, Frank realized I can play with pretty much anybody and he decided to open his recruitment back up. That’s when Tim Davis reached out to Jon Scheyer and told him that he ought to take a look at Frank. They really started tracking Frank at the beginning of his junior year of high school.


How did Coach Scheyer handle the communication process early on with you guys?

He was great, he just called and asked a lot of questions about Frank, not so much about just how good he was, he didn’t talk to me about those types of things.  Instead he just wanted to find out what kind of kid Frank was, what his interests were, would he have any interest in Duke after they had looked at him, those kinds of conversations. Jon Scheyer has been great, he’s been a wonderful recruiter and we have developed a great relationship with him because right from the very beginning he expressed a care and concern for Frank, not just as a basketball player but as a person as well. He really wanted to know what kind of person Frank was, what kind of character did he have, that was important to them.


He’s so easy to talk to with Coach Scheyer, he was just really comfortable with us and he didn’t put on any airs with us. He didn’t have to sell Duke, he didn’t have to sell Duke at all-it was just about building the relationship and he talked about how Frank would be prepared by Coach K and the staff. That’s exactly the approach he took and we were able to build a wonderful relationship. He wanted to know about me and my family, my background, where I grew up, he wanted to get to know me as a person and Frank as a person as well, he didn’t have to sell Duke, Duke sells itself, it is what it is.


Then there was a point in time where Coach K got involved in Frank’s recruitment—what was that process like that starting out when it happened?

It wasn’t until April of this year, 2015 in Dallas. Up until that point they had only seen clips of Franklin on YouTube, and they had been able to watch some of his high school games online, but the talent level is not that great here in Utah, so it was really hard to tell.  So Coach K came to his game in Dallas, it was on a Friday evening and we didn’t know he was there. He was watching his game and Coach Scheyer told us within the first two or three minutes that Coach K thought he was really special. Then that is when the relationship with Coach K first started and it just gradually picked up throughout the whole summer. I had my first conversation with him in June when we were at the NBA Top 100 Camp and we were texting back and forth with us and Frank. They are very cognizant of the rules as to when they can and can’t reach out to parents and kids, so they respected the rules as well. That’s when it really started with Coach K was in Dallas back in April.


What was that first conversation like with Coach K ?

He was cool. We decided in working with Scheyer that after the Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville—we were going to go down to Duke for a visit and we spent the whole day with Coach K and his staff. We spent a lot of time in his office and touring the campus and right from there it was a great experience. My wife and I felt good about it and we both said that if Frank wants to go to school here, we can make this work.


Since Coach Scheyer laid a lot of groundwork in building a relationship with you guys through the fall and winter and spring—how did Coach K handle his communication role once he started getting involved?

He took over. Scheyer still did a lot of talking with day to day type stuff, I’d talk with Scheyer three or four times a week through text about Frank, but Coach K would send a text here, or send a personal note here. He really focused on Frank then, not so much on me and his mom, he focused a lot on building a relationship with Frank. He would call Frank and they would talk maybe once a week and they would text each other throughout the week. He was different from some of the other programs in that we felt like the other programs were recruiting Mom and Dad and Coach K was working on his relationship with Frank, which was really different. I thought that was really great because at the end of the day, it’s going to be Frank’s decision and he has to be comfortable with the head coach. Coach K did a good job at developing a relationship with Frank early on and so when it came time for him to commit-he felt very comfortable with the coach.


What kind of feedback were you having with Frank as his relationship with Coach K was growing through those weekly calls and texts?

It was so cool to him because he was like, “Coach K really wants me to go to school there, like really?”  He was in awe of Coach K from the very beginning. Intimidated by him at first maybe, but then they started building a great relationship. He was just in awe of the fact that Coach K was interested in him.


What did you as parents hear from Coach K and the staff over time that solidified how you felt about them?

First and foremost the fact that the same values that he teaches his kids in the program are the same things that we teach in our kids. So when Mom and Dad heard him, it just resonated. Coach K just sounded like Mom and Dad to Frank.


How much dialogue did you guys seek with the staff on the basketball side of things with how they saw Frank, how’d they develop him and stuff like that?

We talked a lot about that. Anybody that comes to see Frank play knows that Frank does really well with the ball in his hands and that’s what he did with his AAU team this summer.  So of course we asked how he’d fit in, we know they are recruiting some other guards, as we asked where they saw Frank fitting in because he’s not going to come into a program and play with another point guard that you guys are recruiting in the same class. It wasn’t long that they decided, I don’t remember exactly when it was, but they exclusively said that he’s our guy, the only guy we’re recruiting for that spot in 2016. Once that happened, it was clear sailing then and really what it was left up to was Frank should come for a visit, see if he’s comfortable and if he likes the environment there and likes the kids that they recruit, then they had a shot at him. At the same time though-Stanford and Utah were really on his radar screen along with BYU so even though Duke was high on Frank, Frank still kept it open to those other three schools.


How difficult was it in deciding to go to Duke with three more “local” programs being heavily involved?

It was hard for Frank because they did a great job recruiting him. Stanford, BYU and Utah, the coaching staffs developed a really good relationship with them and Frank liked them a lot. Frank is kinda an old man in a young man’s body and he would have been fine staying home and going to school. I think he realized that in order for him to grow, he needed to leave the nest and go somewhere far from home.


Going back to the conversations you mentioned about recruiting plans in 2016 with other guards—was that a conversation primarily with Coach K once he got involved?

Mostly with Scheyer. They had a staff meeting one day and he called me and communicated to me that Coach K really wants Frank to be a part of that program. They weren’t begging for him to come, they never begged, but they really wanted him to be a part of the program and he was the main target for 2016 at his spot. I’m sure Coach K talked about that with Frank when they had their personal conversations about wanting him in 2016.


I remember Frank talking about potentially taking his two year mission.  What was the decision making process like in evaluating whether to go to college in 2016 or going on the mission?

He made it a matter of prayer because it was his decision. Mom and Dad both said that serving on a mission is a good thing and we would love for you to do that, but at the same time—it’s his mission, the mission is for him, it’s not for the church, the mission is for each kid to decide because it’s really a personal thing. If he decided to go that’s great, but if he decided to go and play basketball and serve his mission in a different way, we were 100% supportive. I’ve seen as he’s gone to some of these all star games this summer the light that he has been with his faith towards other people, it’s just been tremendous. Frank relishes the fact that he is different, he’s not doing some of the same things that kids of his age are doing these days. He’s not drinking alcohol, he’s not messing around with girls the way a lot of boys do today. He takes that very seriously and he actually relishes the fact that he’s different in that way and he wears it on his sleeve. That’s been enjoyable to watch just like it was with Jabari Parker. Jabari was a great example to us and we want Frank to follow in those footsteps.


How much opportunity did Frank have to interact with Jabari through this process?

He did, he did. He talked to him this summer at the Peach Jam and they hit it off. Jabari was so cool to him and they exchanged cell phone numbers and they’ve been texting for over a month now, month and a half.

It’s been so positive with him you know, Jabari is a different dude. He’s in a class by himself and Frank really looked up to him—he was really cool. They talked about Jabari’s relationship with Coach K and they really focused on what it’s like being Mormon at Duke because Frank really wanted to know that. He was very positive on all fronts, he got a good feel for Coach K and for the school from looking through a different perspective through Jabari’s eyes—that was really helpful to him.


How about for you guys as parents—did you have any helpful conversations with parents connected to Duke in some way?

Yeah we talked to Tank Thornton—Derryck Thornton’s Dad, and we talked to Jayson Tatum’s Dad at Peach Jam.  We had a nice 30 minute sit down with Jay Williams at the Elite 24. We were at the hotel and we ran into him in the lobby and we sat with him for 30 minutes and he told us about his experience with Coach K and the whole program, that was really helpful. Each program is different from any others, especially with Duke because it’s a family. That’s one thing that was really different and that resonated with my wife and I was the family connection and camaraderie with the current players and the alumni. We got a chance this past trip to spend a lot of time with the players. Frank got to hang out with them Friday night and Saturday night-he had the opportunity to go to dinner with them Saturday night and he got to play with them and let me tell you, those are the types of kids you want your kids around. Just really solid citizens with great character who want to win and compete. So that was important also.


What did you observe when seeing Frank around the guys and seeing how they took him in?

Yeah they were coaches on the floor because he was out there scrimmaging with them. They were helping him play at a different level. I don’t think Frank has ever played in a pickup game as intense as that one was. These guys were going at it and they were probably playing as hard as I’ve ever seen. You know, Frank has a tendency to coast sometimes because he’s always been the best player on the team and he’s not coming out of the game and he’s never been pushed really hard. But there he was pushed really hard and he really developed a great relationship with Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, the Plumlee kid, Derryck Thornton, Luke Kennard, I mean all of the kids were just great to him and they took Frank under their wings which was great. They actually hung out with him late into the night on Friday and he got back to the hotel both nights around 12:30 or 1 o’clock and he just said Dad, these guys are great, I love them.


For you as parents—as you took in campus and spent time with the staff, what stood out for you the most?

The feel, it was a good feel. We really wanted Frank in a program where they were going to push him outside his comfort zone and help him not only as a basketball player but also help grow into being a man. The coaches there are just top quality guys from top to bottom. I mean Coach K is about as down to earth as you can be. He said something in his speech, he said we don’t have rules for our players-we have standards. When the kids live by those standards, you don’t need rules. He holds his guys accountable on and off the court and it’s just a different feel at Duke. Out of all the campuses we’ve been on, there’s just a different feel there. It’s a tradition and when you’ve been there 30, over 30 years and he’s still excited for his 36th year there, you can just feel the passion with him. He’s an emotional guy but he’s also a really nice guy and he treated us so well, just down to earth and it was such a great visit. I know I’m going on and on but we have no misgivings at all, no worries at all with him going. We feel very confident and comfortable.


Frank mentioned in his earlier interview that he told Coach K in their closing meeting that he was ready to go to Duke. How did you guys as his parents feel from the beginning of the visit to the end of it?

Yeah I think when we, one of the first things we did was Coach K gave a speech to about 500 students from the Business School, graduate students. He gave a speech and my wife and I were looking at each other with goosebumps in watching him. He sounded just like Mom and Dad in terms of what we try to teach our kids since the time they could walk and talk. We looked over at Frank and Frank is watching his speech which was like 45, 50 minutes long and Frank didn’t pull out his cell phone one time and didn’t even send one text the entire time. Frank’s phone is tethered to his hand which you know kids these days, I think it was during that time listening to him speak that we knew that if this is where Frank feels like he wants to go to school, then Mom and Dad are 100% behind him. This is a different place and it’s unique and it’s going to help him grow into a man not only on the court and off the court. And you know, he wants to play in the NBA and I think he can probably do that. But being able to play in the best conference with the best players is intriguing to him and that’s what we want for our boy because that’s what’s going to make him better.


With the NBA question—a player of Frank’s caliber will likely have a decision to make whether to go pro early. What’s the family thought process towards evaluating that potential option for Frank?

Wow, that’s a great question and I really don’t know. Mom and Dad would love for him to stay in school for a couple years at least. 19 years old in the NBA seems awful young and I don’t know if Frank is that good yet to be considered able to do something like that. We’ll continue to see how he progresses and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We just want to make sure not only that he can handle it physically, but the mental part of it is critically important. You have to be mature enough to handle that environment because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to hold his hand the whole time. Usually when you are drafted as a lottery pick if you are fortunate enough to do that, a lot of the times you are going to a bad team anyways, so there’s a lot of things you want to factor into that decision. And you know what, secondly, we don’t need anything from Frank. We’re not rich but we’re comfortable and there’s no pressure for Frank to go into the NBA as soon as possible to help his parents make ends meet. We’re doing just fine, we don’t need him to go into the NBA to do that. When we look at that option, we will have a circle of people that we trust that we will talk to including the coaches when looking at his decision. Just like with the recruiting process, we tried to surround Frank with good people who gave him all the information he needs so he can make an educated and informed decision. In order to do that, we need as much guidance as possible.


I asked Frank about the final meeting with Coach K when he committed—were you guys in the room for that as well ? What do you remember about it?

Actually no, we were and I had insisted on this—I wanted Frank and Coach K to have some alone time just like they did during the first visit because it’s really between Frank and him. They gotta develop their relationship so we went outside and sat on a bench and just watched campus life and just talked. They were by themselves for about 20 minutes and then Coach Scheyer called us in and we walked into the room and Frank is sitting there literally with tears in his eyes, his eyes were welling up and I just went up and held him and gave him a hug and held him for like 40 seconds and he was sobbing in my arms the whole time. Then Coach K is touched by that and my wife is crying, it was an unbelievable confirmation for Frank that he had made the right decision and this is where he wanted to be and he could feel it. It was a really special moment, I wish you had been there to see it. It’s every parent’s dream to have their kid come to that confirmation on their own.


What was the trip like back home knowing he was going to be announcing soon thereafter?

Oh yeah we wanted to do it quickly after that. I had to remind Frank that I know you are going to Duke and Coach K is the man and all, but I’m still the man until you leave the house, haha. I’m still dad and I’m still in charge, nah, I’m just joking haha. It was surreal, it was a great ride home and they counseled us on how to go about doing it, how to go about making an announcement and how to call the other coaches.


Then the announcement came, what was that like?

Oh it was surreal, it was great. He read a nice statement and did a nice job with that. All his people, his teammates from high school and AAU were there and a bunch of news outlets were there who have been covering Frank for the last few years. It was cool and great and I couldn’t be more prouder of him. It was an awesome day for him and for the family. He was great, it was an awesome, awesome experience.

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