Junior Primer: Josh Jackson

Feb. 27 -- UCLA is one of many schools in the hunt for 2016 five-star forward Josh Jackson...

How he got here

It seems like he’s always been here. Going back several years now, before he even had begun to make his mark in high school, Josh Jackson always has stood out as the quintessentially elite prospect.

Blessed with every athletic trait a person could ask for — quickness, leaping ability, balance, agility and flexibility — plus jumbo wing size and long arms, Jackson’s trajectory seemingly flattened out for awhile only because there was effectively no headroom for him to move up.

At the USA Basketball developmental camp in 2012, Jackson caught our attention immediately as a potential star. Nor did that recognition require any precision scouting: A talent that prodigious would be nearly impossible to miss.

Opposing ballhandlers become wary when Jackson begins to stalk

And it went from there. His freshman year, at Detroit (Mich.) Consortium, he blasted through prep seniors with ease. He proceeded to tear up the travel circuit in 2013, and at one point in late July, he’d played so well that week that hordes of college coaches and media traveled to an auxiliary gym just to take a look.

After a scintillating sophomore campaign in 2013-14, Jackson was named player of the year by MLive. He then set out on the travel circuit with 1 Nation on the Under Armour circuit. In 11 games he averaged 16 points while shooting just under 50 percent from the field. He also pulled down eight rebounds per game.

But when you look at those stats, do they scream No. 1 player? Jackson’s summer felt a little empty, at least compared with the guys in his class who’d played extremely well, such as Jayson Tatum.

The travel period culminated with Jackson leaving Detroit and transferring to Napa (Calif.) Prolific Prep for the 2014-15 season.

And that’s when things began to take on a clearer shape. Jackson always has been a great high school player, but at times this season he has looked like the best overall talent in the junior class. He has combined his overabundant athleticism with the desire to compete on every play, and the result has been end to end, game-long dominance.

Jackson’s recruitment appears to be more preliminary than that of Tatum, Harry Giles or some other blue-chip peers. He’s obviously going to enjoy his choice of collegiate options, and none of those options appears to have a realistic chance of keeping him for a second season.

To 2015. …

The first order of business is to keep doing what he’s been doing. When he’s engaged as he has been this year, Jackson is a mesmerizing scorer who adds to that rebounding, block shots and perhaps the most tenacious on-ball defense in the class. He could make the NBA on his defensive ability alone.

He always has been a fantastic transition scorer who rises over the field for slams yet can stop, change direction and contort his body to finish in highly surprising fashion. From two-point range last year, Jackson shot well over 50 percent against national competition. That’s just a mild indicator for what he ultimately might accomplish in open floor settings.

It’s the halfcourt where he has sometimes struggled. Jackson is not a good shooter and may never be one. He hit just 9-37 (24 percent) on threes for 1 Nation and converted only 64 percent from the free throw line. As many plaudits as he receives, very rarely does someone compliment Jackson’s jumper.

Fortunately, he doesn’t absolutely have to have one. He might have to obtain one in order to become an NBA superstar, of course, but not every 6-7 mega-athlete has needed a consistent shot to become an impact player, even at that level. Again, take Jackson’s fullcourt offense and superb ballhandling along with his defense and rebounding, and it becomes easier to overlook his primary fundamental flaw.

He can get stronger, too, of course, and he isn’t nearly as effective in halfcourt as fullcourt. But those two areas will improve with natural maturity and experience, as Jackson learns how to punish even those defenders who back off two steps daring him to shoot.

As we size up the field between now and May, 2016, don’t be surprised if Jackson earns the top spot in the class. At the minimum, he’ll certainly be close.

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