Midway through the second half of UNC’s loss at Louisville on Jan. 31, Justin Jackson was in a precarious situation. He found himself between the Cardinals’ leading rebounder – and best player – Montrezl Harrell and the rim.
This is the same Montrezl Harrell known for his always-on-high motor, ferocious dunks and muscular physique. Following a miss by Terry Rozier, Harrell and his 236-pound frame easily moved the 193-pound Jackson out of the way for a rebound and an uncontested layup.
This was a moment that Jackson cited and remembered well. Similar stories sprinkle his freshman season.
They’re the reason he is again working with Rashad Ford while he’s home in the Houston area during the first summer session.
Ford, a strength and conditioning coach at Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute, is a protégée of Anthony Falsone, athletic performance coordinator for the San Antonio Spurs. In his career, Ford has worked with athletes who’ve played in the NFL, MLB, NBA and U.S. Women’s National Soccer team.
“Anthony (Falsone) called me last summer and said he had this awesome basketball player about to go to UNC looking for a strength coach to work with,” said Ford. “I told him I’d be more than happy to work with the player. I started working with Justin last summer to prepare him for what he was going to encounter at UNC from a strength and conditioning perspective.”
This summer, Ford is collaborating with UNC strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian on Jackson’s program. Each week, Sahratian sends a weekly workout to Jackson.
“We’ll go by that and then I’ll throw in a few other things that I see he needs to work on,” Ford explained (see one of Ford's sample daily workout cards for Jackson at right). “They want him to put on size. Our goal is to make sure that it’s basketball-functional size. We don’t want to blow him up and make him too (full of mass).”
The Jackson family’s expressed goal was for Jackson to put on up to 10 pounds of muscle during the summer. He’s already made strides to that end.
“Just last week, we were doing the bench press and he went through it pretty quickly,” Ford said. “Justin looked at me and said, ‘It’s a little light, Rashad.’ So, I had to throw a little bit more on him.”
“He increased his output quite a bit from week one,” continued Ford. “Doing the rep count that we’re aiming for and hitting it shows that everything is increasing as far his ability to do exercises easily. He’s definitely noticing it and he’s challenging himself.”
Ford believes adding five to 10 pounds of muscle is a “win” for Jackson.
“We just want it to be healthy weight,” he said. “He’s eating good quality food not junk or anything like that.”
Jackson and Ford meet Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Monday and Thursday are devoted to lower body exercises, while Tuesday and Friday are reserved for an upper body regimen. What makes the workouts tougher for Jackson is that he’s already spent several hours on those same days doing on-the-court, skill-development work with John Lucas.
“I definitely monitor and adjust our sessions based on what he did at basketball earlier in the day,” said Ford. “We don’t want to wear him down.”
Two things Ford believes will help Jackson on the court this fall – opening up his chest and hip mobility.
“There was one point where his shoulders were rounded forward a bit and he didn’t stand as tall as he could,” explained Ford. “That could be because he’s 6-8 and looking down at everybody. But opening the chest is a point of emphasis. With his hips, if he’s constantly tight there, it decreases his running and jumping ability as well as makes him more susceptible to injury.”
Laboring in the weight room will pay immediate dividends for Jackson. But, it’ll also manifest itself at the most critical moments throughout the season, Ford believes.
“For any athlete, putting in work is the biggest thing,” he said. “You feel better when you go against your competition and know that you’ve prepared properly. Once you see that you can dominate your opponent or hang with them in ways you couldn’t, that’s really a huge transferable thing from the weight room to the court. It’s an old saying, but championships are built in the weight room. I strongly believe in that.”
North Carolina fans hope next season ends where Jackson’s is beginning -- Houston, site of the 2016 Final Four.
“He’s ready (for next season),” Ford said. “He’s played in big-time environments and you know he’s pretty good about keeping his cool. He’s a great kid and he’s down here busting his butt.”
Jackson's Summer: Weight Room
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