Josh Jackson seriously considered playing basketball at the University of Arizona for Sean Miller, who coached Jackson’s Team USA squad to an Under 19 world championship title in Greece.
He pondered picking Michigan State, a team he rooted for as a kid — and one that had already signed one of his good buddies, Miles Bridges.
But Jackson, the No. 1-rated player in the recruiting Class of 2016 by Rivals.com and 247sports.com (No. 2 by ESPN) ultimately decided to play a year of college hoops at Kansas.
In examining the issue, it’s easy to see why.
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“When I took my official visit ... when I stepped in that gym, it was the loudest gym I’d ever been in my entire life,” said Jackson, a 6-foot-8 guard out of Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif.
Originally from Detroit, Jackson was awestruck by Allen Fieldhouse as KU beat Texas 76-67 on Jan. 23.
“I was just the whole time thinking, ‘Man, I would hate to be the opposing team right now, but I would love to be playing for Kansas right now,’ Jackson said. “One major thing is (KU’s) fans. Their fans are amazing, probably the best fans in college basketball. Coach (Bill) Self is a great coach. He coaches the players really hard, pushes them to make them better.”
Even though Jackson had known Miller the longest of all the college coaches recruiting him, he also liked what Self had to offer.
“I felt the team had a real family feel. Everybody was together. There was a lot of trust in the building,” Jackson said. “Coach Self pushes the players and makes them better no matter who they are. (Andrew) Wiggins ... last year, he pushed him a lot.”
Jackson, who averaged 26.9 points, 13.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists during his senior season at Prolific Prep, also wanted to play somewhere he could be a positive influence for younger kids.
“It feels really good. I remember one day I was that kid looking up to somebody. I looked up to a lot of people,” Jackson said. “Whenever I see kids ... you never know what they can grow up and be, what they can grow up and do. I try to inspire them.”
Jackson has the ability to communicate well with youths and adults alike. That’s why he thinks he knows what he wants to do after his playing career ends.
“I think I’d like to get into broadcasting,” he said. “Just watching TV, Sports Center, I feel watching Shaq (O’Neal) on there, Kenny Smith ... they are so funny. They look like they are having so much fun doing it. I feel it’s something I would love to do and still be around the game.”
There’s time for that. Jackson’s basketball ability figures to keep him on the court a long time, says one broadcaster, ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla.
“Josh Jackson of all the guys in his class has the best motor to go with elite athleticism,” Fraschilla said.
Self joked at KU’s Traditions Night in August that Jackson was the greatest athlete of all time.
“Josh has been a guy that is so respected in all high school circles the last four years,” Self said. “He is probably as highly thought of as any recent player to come out of high school because of his competitive nature.
“He is very similar to Andrew Wiggins. He’s a tall guard that can do a lot of everything. We feel his impact on our program will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program. He’s extremely athletic, but more importantly, extremely competitive.”
KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend was the lead recruiter on Jackson — just as he was with another recent one-and-done: Wiggins, who played at KU for one year after being named the No. 1 prep player in the Class of 2013.
“Josh’s freshman year (at Detroit Consortium, where he played two seasons before moving to California) ... it was a lot like when I saw ‘Wiggs’ as a freshman,” Townsend said. “I thought ‘Wiggs’ was like Kobe (Bryant); no different when I saw Josh. I said, ‘Golly, this guy is incredible for his age.’
“He had length. What set him apart was he tries so hard. It was a joke. Even at that age. His mom told me the reason he plays like that is she told him, ‘If you ever step between these lines, you are there to do one thing — it’s serious business.’ She said he takes that to heart. He did that at the McDonald’s game. NBA scouts who were there said he changed that culture. He was playing to win.”
Jackson brought that winning attitude to USA Basketball, where he’s 20-0 for his career.
“It’s not very often you get a special talent like that,” Townsend said.
Jackson promises one thing: He’ll play hard every single day.
“We’ve all got the same goal, to win as many games as possible. That’s pretty much what I’m about,” Jackson said. “I don’t care about scoring or anything like that. ...
“I’m a funny guy. I always want to laugh. I always want to smile. I just want to have a good time.
“As a player ... I hate losing. I want to win, no matter what it is.”