The craziest moment of Josh Jackson’s college life came earlier this semester when a KU student opened the side door of Jackson’s Hummer while Jackson was driving on campus.
“He was like, ‘Oh crap. It’s Josh Jackson. Can you give me a ride home?’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t even know you,’” Jackson said with a laugh. “It was crazy.”
If he didn’t know before, Jackson, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, realized in that moment just how big of a deal he was in Lawrence.
“A lot more than I would like,” he added with a smile.
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Jackson, a 6-foot-8 guard from Detroit, received the bulk of the media attention at Kansas basketball’s media day Thursday. He talked 25 minutes with reporters while holding a basketball in both hands as a calming mechanism.
The topics varied. Jackson was asked a few times about a USA Today cover story from the previous day where he was quoted as saying that the team was “trying to go undefeated.”
“They kind of blew it out of proportion,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t saying that we were going to win every game. I was just saying that’s where we’re setting the bar. That’s our goal. That’s what we want to do.
“But could we win every game this year? It’s possible. We’ve got the team to do it. Not likely, but we’re going to shoot for it. We might as well try.”
Jackson also talked about trying to work on his jump shot, which he admitted needed an adjustment entering college. Jackson, a freshman, has been working with Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on two things in particular: spreading out his fingers on the ball so he can get better control and lifting his release from in front of his face to over his head.
“It’s really difficult, especially this late in your career,” Jackson said. “You’ve been doing the same thing for so long, so many years. I think I’m definitely improving.”
Jackson said he believed his shot’s progression, on a scale of 1 to 10, was now at a “6 or 7,” compared to a 4 when he started at KU.
Coach Bill Self was wary of Jackson thinking too much about his form.
“I like his shot. It’s soft, and certainly he has improved,” Self said. “But that’s going to be the question on him by a lot of people, is can he be consistent? I think he’s mechanically sound enough that he can be consistent.”
Jackson also has been working to adjust to a new coaching style. After getting ripped by Self in a few practices — “I didn’t expect him to be quite like this” — he was reassured by teammates that the coach’s underlying message was most important.
“He knows that I’m kind of a special player, and he still never takes it easy on me, doesn’t kiss my butt,” Jackson said. “He’s really hard on me sometimes. I think I need that. It’s really good to have a coach like that.”
He’s still curious about what’s to come in later workouts.
“From what my teammates tell me, it’s apparently nothing to how he really gets,” Jackson said. “I’m still waiting to see level 10 of Bill Self.”
Self wasn’t afraid to put high expectations on Jackson, who already was chosen as the Big 12’s preseason freshman of the year. The coach reiterated that Jackson had been “everything as advertised” so far.
“He has a chance to be one of the special freshmen the program’s probably ever known,” Self said.
Jackson says he’s already been through a lot during his limited time at KU. There were times in the summer, after weightlifting, when he would lie in bed, his body hurting so badly that he could barely move.
“I was like, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’” Jackson said. “But I got through it, and it’s coming really easy now.”
There have been times when he’s barreled hard into Landen Lucas on a screen, and other times in practice when he’s run full speed but hasn’t been able to catch up with teammate Frank Mason.
And though a lot is expected of him, Jackson remembers Self bringing this topic up during his recruitment: No matter how talented he might be, the guard was unlikely to match the production of previous players like Wilt Chamberlain or Danny Manning.
Jackson liked thinking about that. Instead of carrying his team’s torch, he could do just fine to some day pass it on to the next wave of talented players in the program.
“I felt like the bar was set pretty high. I like a challenge,” Jackson said.
“I’m not saying that I’ll probably be the best Kansas player ever, but I’m definitely going to do my best — be the best that I can be.”