Jackson's Summer: Personal Growth

Justin Jackson's strides on the court have coincided with a growing confidence and maturity in all that is required of being a top college basketball player.

During his freshman season, Justin Jackson faced challenges seemingly at every turn.

He was challenged during his first Carolina practices. He called them “an eye opener.”

He was challenged during the regular season, playing in the “new” ACC, which had five teams reach at least the Sweet 16. He routinely had to defend or attempt to score against players either bigger and stronger or shorter and faster than him.

Still, those paled in relative comparison to the challenges he faced in the classroom, the court of public opinion and in his own mind.

“It’s a little different because in high school you’re under a microscope if you’re a high-level recruit,” Jackson said. “Everyone is watching what you do. But in college, it’s more of a microscope.”

In the classroom, Jackson’s favorite class was also his most difficult.

“Statistics was definitely his favorite because he loves math,” Lloyd Jackson, Justin Jackson’s father, said. “It was a struggle for him at first, because he’s trying to figure out how to manage his time with class, workouts, social life and practice. I think just like his play on the court, the second semester we saw a maturity where his grades went to a level he expects.”

The court of public opinion is a little different.

Neither Jackson nor his teammates were at North Carolina during a stretch in which the NCAA has alleged the school committed violations. Add to the allegations an uneven season for both Jackson and the Tar Heels, and you’ve got a recipe for toxic interactions on social media.

“Seeing some of the things that some of the so-called fans would say… that we played bad, that we weren’t good basketball players, that was different,” Justin Jackson explained. “And they’re saying that while they’re sitting on their couch at home. It kind of gets to you, because all you want to do is react to what they’re saying. It definitely can get to you and affect your mindset if you let it.”

Added Lloyd Jackson: “If you leave social media alone and stay away, your life as an athlete in high school, college or as a professional can go so much better I think that was an eye-opener for him. He knew what was going to happen, but I don’t think he realized the severity of it.” In his own mind, Jackson battled with confidence issues during parts of his freshman season. The rigor of everything that goes into being a highly-skilled athlete and student can be overbearing at times.

“He started the season off with all the confidence in the world,” Lloyd Jackson said. “But then he started thinking too much and there was no consistency in what he was doing. It was, good one minute, OK the next and then not so good. He’d take 12 shots, then two shots, then four shots and then 10 shots. He’d get five rebounds, then two rebounds, then six rebounds, then nine rebounds. I felt like he hit a road block and our job as family was to help him rebuild his confidence.”

The Jackson family is a close-knit one. They were able to attend several games throughout the season. Having them around helped Justin get through his challenges.

“I’ll be honest with you, it was discouraging at times to watch who I knew he was not be who I saw at times,” said Lloyd Jackson. “At times, I gave him advice like ‘stick with the game plan,’ ‘work your tail off,’ ‘stay true to who you are.’ His performance wasn’t always what it should’ve been. In the Jackson household we don’t believe in excuses. You look in the mirror first.”

“I think seeing us there and having dinner with us after a rough night, helped him,” he continued. “A lot of times we didn’t talk about basketball, just about how things were. We’re all close, so it was a growing process for everyone.”

Jackson’s struggles both on and off the court were valuable tools, his father believes.

“He knows what to expect now, there really shouldn’t be any surprises” Lloyd Jackson said. “He came home (for five weeks this summer) because we, and he, know he has to get better for the team to be what it wants to be next year.”

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