PHILADELPHIA – North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Indiana’s Troy Williams spent their summer breaks refining their games and improving their skill sets, often against one another, at John Lucas’s training facility in Houston.
On Friday, the duo will compete once again for a return trip to Houston, this time for the Final Four, moving one step closer for the Sweet 16 victor.
Jackson and Williams joined a number of college standouts at the Lucas Lab during the first summer sessions. Jackson, whose hometown of Tomball is 35 miles northwest of Houston, made the drive four times a week for group practice sessions that typically ran two hours long in addition to a pair of individual 90-minute workouts with Lucas focused on shooting.
Every time Jackson arrived for a group session, Williams was there.
“We would do everything,” Jackson said on Thursday. “We were matched up against each other a lot whenever we did drills and those types of things. We were pretty much in the same group, so we did quite a bit together.”
While there are similarities in position and size (Williams is a long 6-7, Jackson is 6-8), there are notable differences in their style of play. The Tar Heel is a finesse player, efficient in his scoring with an outside shot that’s been inconsistent this season. The Hoosier plays more of a slashing, aggressive game. Both thrive in transition.
Williams, who said he also matched up with Jackson in various camps throughout high school, compared their games during Indiana’s interview period at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.
“We both move without the ball really well,” said Williams, who is averaging 13.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. “We both attack the glass really strong. He’s a great player. His numbers don’t show it, but he’s actually a really great shooter. He’s playing without the ball even better, and he can play with the ball in his hands just as well.”
Jackson (12.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) described his counterpart’s identity on the court as “active.”
“He’s a driver, a playmaker, a guy that’s always moving every single second that he’s in the game,” Jackson said. “He just seems like he’s all over the court, so we’ve got to be ready to play against that ability whenever he has the ball or whenever he doesn’t have the ball.”
Since those summer sessions, both players have participated in roughly 100 practices along with the long schedule of games to get to this point, so the value in their competition lies more in helping one another than in serving as a scouting opportunity.
“I know his game a little bit, just like he probably knows my game a little bit,” Jackson said. “It was a different setting, so I can’t really look much into that, but he’s a good player, so it was good to go against him in the summer. It allowed both of us to get better.”
Every bit of familiarity helps this deep into March.
Watch video of their head-to-head summer battles below ...