Kansas freshman Josh Jackson on Wednesday returns to Las Vegas, site of several of his show-stopping performances on the summertime AAU basketball circuit.
“I’ve been to Vegas plenty of times. I think my favorite one (trip) was my junior year we won the Fab 48 for the first time. I’d been playing in that tournament since I was in eighth grade and never won it, so it was really good to finally win one,” said Jackson, a 6-foot-8, 207-pound guard from Detroit.
As star of Michigan’s 1Nation Elite program, Jackson scored 22 points and had several key rebounds and blocks in the closing minutes of a 56-49 victory over BTI Select in the 17-and-under Fab 48 finals on July 27, 2015, at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School.
Now, a year and a half later, he is slated to start his 12th college game when No. 3-ranked KU (10-1) takes on UNLV (7-5) at 8 p.m. Thursday at Thomas & Mack Center.
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Some of KU’s players will head to their hometowns for a three-day Christmas break immediately after Thursday’s contest. Others, like Jackson, will catch flights home on Friday morning.
“I don’t think anybody is thinking about the break too much right now,” said Jackson, who is second on the team to Frank Mason in scoring (15.1 points per game) and first in rebounding (6.3 rebounds per game). “We’ve got a pretty important game coming up. I feel everybody is focused. I feel we all want to win. I think we all know what we have to do.”
Jackson has been pleased with the nonconference portion of what figures to be his only season of college basketball. The UNLV game precedes the opening of Big 12 Conference play on Dec. 30 at TCU. After eight league games are contested, KU will meet Kentucky in a final nonconference clash on Jan 28 in Lexington, Ky.
“Of course I feel I can play a little better here and there. Overall I think I’ve been doing pretty well,” Jackson said. “I’m pretty happy with my play and my teammates’ play.
“I think my job for the team is pretty easy. I think just being able to know what I have to do in order for my team to be successful game in and game out, which is rebounding, playing defense and always bringing energy. I feel if I always do those things, I’ll be fine.”
KU coach Bill Self has been pleased with Jackson’s play in the Jayhawks’ four-guard lineup.
“I may be nuts … if you are averaging 15 and 6 and are probably the best passer on the team, you should be pretty happy with that. I still think he can do a lot more. I really do,” Self said.
“I think the ceiling is so high with him. I’m not talking about effort. I’m talking about maybe aggressiveness, looking to score, putting himself in places. I still don’t think he’s the offensive rebounder he can be. We’ve seen flashes of it. I think he should be the hardest guy in the country to block off the offensive glass because he gets a running start every time. I think he can still plug himself into what we do to allow him to put up even bigger numbers.”
Self continued: “I think there’s still another gear he can go. I think he would tell you the same thing probably, too. He’s getting more and more comfortable playing with these other guys, understanding their strengths and weaknesses. Before he might keep the ball too long on the break. Now he’s pitching it ahead. He’s understanding that they’ll get it back to him. He’s making the game easier for them, and he’s figuring out they can make the game easier for him, as well.”
Jackson said he feels more comfortable with the older players on the team than he did when he first arrived on campus in June.
“I’ve never been on a team this talented before in my life,” Jackson said. “It was kind of an adjustment for me when I first got here. The thing he (Self) really helped me out with, the thing he told me, was to be myself and play my game. Sometimes, from the first time I got here, I was holding back a little bit because I knew I was playing with more talented guys. He doesn’t want me to do that. He wants me to be who I am.”
Self says it’s only natural it took Jackson a few weeks to adjust to new teammates and surroundings.
“It sounds all fine and dandy to come in here and (say), ‘Hey I’m going to be aggressive and I’m going to be all this.’ You’ve got some older guys saying, ‘Listen here young fella, this is my show, not yours yet.’ We don’t have that, but there’s been times even though those words aren’t spoken they are somehow put in kids’ minds and they defer too much. Josh probably has deferred a little bit, not a lot.”
If the Jayhawks — who are slated to arrive in Vegas late Wednesday afternoon — win Thursday, the players and coaches figure to have a carefree holiday before returning to Lawrence for practice the night of Nov. 26.
Jackson is especially looking forward to a few days in Detroit.
“We’ll have a couple of family members over. My mom … my grandma cooks. Probably being with them (will be the highlight),” Jackson said.
“There’s a couple of food places I really miss and I want to go to,” he added, rattling off the names of Captain Jay’s, Coney Island, Capers Steakhouse, which is “my favorite place for steak.”
A few days away from basketball, “definitely will be good for a lot of guys on the team, especially myself I think,” Jackson said. “Guys are getting a little weary. I think we need to keep going at it because it’s not going to get easier from here on out.”
Svi to start again
Self said junior guard Svi Mykhailiuk will start his second straight game in place of Lagerald Vick, who has made five starts his sophomore season.
“I actually like how he’s playing,” Self said of Mykhailiuk, who had 13 points in Saturday’s win over Davidson. “Not that six free throws is a huge number, but he shot six (making four) and shot six the whole year prior to that. So the first 10 games he shot six and in one game he shoots six. That was positive.”
Wooten picks Arizona State
Kenny Wooten, a 6-8 senior forward from Trinity International in Las Vegas, on Tuesday committed to Arizona State.
He said he also considered KU, Oregon, USC and California.
Wooten signed with Nevada in November 2015, but decided to opt out of his letter of intent and play this season at Trinity.
Cunliffe to visit KU, ESPN says
Former Arizona State shooting guard Sam Cunliffe, who announced plans to leave the Sun Devils on Dec. 13, will visit Kansas on Jan. 3 for the KU-Kansas State game at Allen Fieldhouse, his father told ESPN on Tuesday night as reported by Jeff Goodman.
Cunliffe, a 6-6 shooting guard from Seattle, averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a game while starting all 10 of Arizona State’s games this season.