"Justin brought a lot of attention by their defense," HCYA coach Mike Decker said after one of the games – though the comment applied to all three. "They keyed in on him and he rose to the occasion.
"As you can see, Justin's consistent. He's going to bring what he brings."
What he brought was 37.3 points per game (55% FG) and 10.3 rebounds per game. What he received was the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.
Q&A WITH JUSTIN JACKSON
Did it cross your mind much during this tournament that you're playing in your future college home state?
Obviously it does, you're playing right in the middle of all three colleges – North Carolina, Duke and NC State – so you're going to have your fans and enemies supporting you and not supporting you. It went through my mind but I was just trying to go out and play and get the win.
Can you revisit why you picked Carolina?
I got a really good relationship with Coach Williams and then Coach Robinson was the main one that recruited me. And when I took my official visit it just felt right, so that's when we decided.
How long have you been home schooled?
I started in Texas when I was 12.
How challenging do you see it being on a basketball team that has two practices a week while other teams are practicing every day?
I guess I'm used to it, it's nothing different for me. Outside of practice I get my own workouts in and I encourage the rest of the players to do that as well.
What's the benefit to you of playing with this type of team instead of a traditional big box high school?
I'm pretty much on a college schedule already. I've got to make time for my school work, my workouts and my rest … I've got to be able to balance everything, so I think it's good for me.
How much have you followed Carolina's season this year?
I've followed it a lot. Lots of ups and downs, but I think they'll be all right. … They came out and played really well against Louisville and Michigan State, and then with Belmont and UAB they sort of played down to their competition and they got them. Texas was a pretty good team but they still should have won. But I think they'll get it.
How much do you keep in touch with the guys on the team now?
I don't talk to them much. The one I talk to the most is Marcus … but I talk to Joel (Berry) and Theo (Pinson) more than the guys who are already there – I try to keep up a relationship with them.
We saw Joel play tonight, what type of player do you think he is?
He's a great player. Obviously he can score, is a good point guard, can see the floor, can pretty much do a little of everything out there. So I'm going to enjoy playing with him.
Who's your Carolina Basketball idol?
I'm not going to say Michael Jordan, because I'm sure everyone says Michael Jordan. There are a lot of guys. Wayne Ellington was a big one (for me). Obviously you have Vince Carter and all those sorts of guys.
What parts of your game are you trying to improve now with thoughts of next year?
Definitely getting stronger so I can play through contact more – when I'm hit I can still hit the shot or make the pass … and then pretty much all aspects of my game so when I go in I'm ready to contribute.
How are you doing with the getting stronger part?
Weights, push-ups, sit-ups, all that type of stuff. I don't like it but I've got to do it.
How much do you weight right now?
And do you have a goal weight going in?
Maybe 210-215. That's the goal weight.
Has (UNC S&C coach) Jonas (Sahratian) talked to you at all?
We've talked to him on my visits. They can't give me anything to do right now, but we've talked. He said pretty much push ups, weights if I can do them – mainly body weight stuff.
What challenges do you see making the transition to being a college wing?
Playing the ‘2' and ‘3' you're going to have some guys that are small, some that are big, so I've got to be able to stay down in the stance and play defense – stay with the quick guards and bump the guys that are bigger than me. So it's about getting my legs stronger so I can stay down in the stance.
Has it benefitted you being the biggest player on your team, and playing a lot down low?
It's definitely made me go get stronger – if I don't get stronger I'm going to get beat up down there. And it's helped me on defense see the type of offense they're running so I can sit back, talk to our guys, and so it's helped me a lot with their leadership.
by Rob Harrington
Justin Jackson exited last summer with the reputation for being one of the most refined players in the Class of 2014, yet the Jackson who showed up at the HSOT Invitational demonstrated real progress over the past six months.
Most of the improvement manifested in the form of his three-point jump shot. Jackson actually had made his name as an underclassman based on long-distance shooting, but on the 2013 EYBL circuit he became a more reluctant marksman from distance. No one complained much, given that he scored at an absurdly efficient clip from the middle- and short-range areas.
I commented in July that he had become a full-time set shooter, pitching his three-pointers that became flat and lacked the smoothness he showed from elsewhere. He still knocked down threes, but his game looked more mechanical from 20 feet and beyond.
But at the HSOT, he clearly had tweaked his delivery. Jackson jumped into his threes and, while he'll never be confused for Glen Rice, that bit of elevation made him far more accurate in Raleigh. Exploding into their jump shot is a prime way for flat shooters to compensate for that issue, and Jackson will need to give the three-point deprived Tar Heels pop from deep.
Arc aside, he also remains a dynamic, tricky scorer from everywhere else. Jackson goes from catch to shot extremely quickly, and he doesn't need a clean look, to have his feet under him or to be at all on-balance. He uses the glass well, slides under shotblockers and feels defensive help quickly to maneuver for better options.
Addressing his lack of muscle looms as a primary need for improvement and, unlike his three-ball, his body likely will require a longer-term fix. He's a naturally slight player who can get bulled around defensively and under the backboards, and thus he projects as a very tall wing rather than someone who could slide down to the four spot for long stretches.
Beyond that, what more can you say about a top-10 talent? Jackson should step into the rotation next season in Chapel Hill and deliver production immediately.