Kansas freshman Josh Jackson woke up Thursday inadvertently springing forward to Friday and prematurely ready to go for his first NCAA Tournament game.
By the time the real deal loomed just a few hours away, though, Jackson had to “talk to myself a little bit” to negotiate with his nerves.
Maybe that chat was all the more necessary since it also was his first game in 13 days after being suspended for KU’s Big 12 tournament loss to Texas Christian.
And because he knew, one way or another, he had something for which to atone.
“He definitely felt bad,” junior guard Devonte’ Graham said.
Without quite saying he should have felt that way, Graham added, “If you’re capable of playing, unless you’re injured or something like that, you always want to be on the floor.”
Whatever was bubbling inside Jackson, by game time it was stowed in a compartment that enabled him to play with what KU coach Bill Self likes to call “a free mind” in No. 1-seeded KU’s 100-62 dissection of 16th-seeded UC Davis.
Jackson was so liberated in this Midwest region game at the BOK Center that his 17 points included an array of shots that left him pantomiming one for his teammates on his way to the sideline.
Later, he talked thusly about his drive from right to left and scooping with his left hand:
“I was just a little impressed with myself with that one,” he said, smiling.
And, well, who wasn’t?
Including the guys in the other uniforms, who actually were tied with KU at 21.
“He made some spectacular plays,” UC Davis’ Chima Moneke said. “It did change the momentum.”
Added UC Davis’ Brynton Lemar: “Those plays that he made, it really kind of sparked their team, got the crowed going. And they fed off that energy.”
KU never had that energy against TCU, both because of the absence of Jackson specifically and the way that exposed their depth in a game in which they were outscored 34-3 off the bench.
(The Jayhawks’ bench outscored UC Davis 16-15 only because Tyler Self had a career-high five points late in the game.)
So the 6-foot-8 Jackson obviously is a game-changing talent, one that is the most major X-factor in whether KU can make a run beyond this weekend on into the regional in Kansas City and finally to Phoenix for the Final Four.
All of which he seemingly is able to reconcile as an entirely separate galaxy from the one that recently has marked his life off the court.
He was suspended for the TCU game after it was revealed he had been cited for backing into a car on campus in February and not reporting it to police.
That suspension was assessed, Self has suggested, as part of a cumulative effect from a December incident outside the Yacht Club bar and restaurant in Lawrence in which Jackson was charged with misdemeanor property damage.
The episode has led to a request for a Title IX investigation, and an affidavit released Thursday said that women’s basketball player McKenzie Calvert alleged Jackson that night had threatened to “beat her ass.”
On Thursday, Jackson called the matters “old business” and declined to comment about them further.
Later on Twitter, though, he posted a cryptic comment: “Lol yeah believe everything you read on the internet because it’s always true” ...
Given the chance to clarify what that might have meant after the game on Friday, Jackson said he didn’t want to go into specifics.
“I’ve already accepted responsibility for the role that I played in whatever happened,” he said, “and since then there have just been things that came out that just haven’t been true.”
There’s no way to know what he means by that, nor how his version of the truth would or could be clarified.
And let’s not allow any of that to be trivialized by dismissing it as “distractions” or causes to be rallied around — especially because they have led to some important and necessary questions still to be answered about KU’s administrative procedures and even the pace of law-enforcement priorities in Lawrence.
But you can say this for Jackson:
By all indications, he is unfazed on the court by anything that he’s done or that has happened off the court.
That may mean he’s learned a lot; it may mean he doesn’t believe he deserved to have been scrutinized the way he has been.
Or it may mean a little bit of both.
Now, though, it’s all about basketball in the mind of Jackson, already a likely top 10 NBA pick after this season … and all the more so after his dynamic tournament debut.