Even as upperclassmen continue to prosper, in many ways in college basketball the coin of the realm is the one-and-done recruit.
The coin has a flip side, though. The tantalizing opportunity also is a limited offer that comes with a few asterisks.
An absurd amount is expected in the fleeting time the player is around, and it’s doubtful he can fully mature in that span.
Which leads us to Kansas freshman Josh Jackson, who had a tremendous season for a KU team that wouldn’t have reached the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight without him.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
But on Saturday at the Sprint Center, Jackson seemed off-kilter from seconds into the game and was a virtual non-factor until the final 10 minutes as the Jayhawks fell behind 18 points and were eliminated by Oregon 74-60.
Kansas lost this game for a lot of reasons, including flinching in the intimidating presence of Jordan Bell and his eight blocked shots and being unable to solve Oregon’s zone and Devonte Graham going zero for six from three-point range (and KU five for 25) and Tyler Dorsey hitting two preposterous and deflating three-pointers at the end of the half.
And it certainly didn’t lose the game because of Jackson, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists to go with his five turnovers.
Still, his struggles were a factor, especially for a team that had a thin margin for error much of the season because of its relative lack of depth — a factor that showed up in its Big 12 Tournament loss to Texas Christian with Jackson suspended.
On Saturday, Jackson took himself out of much of the first half when he incurred two fouls within 17 seconds.
“You take an All-American talent off the floor, certainly that did change things from a momentum standpoint,” KU coach Bill Self said.
Afterward, Jackson called the second one a more colorful term for incorrect, and let’s say it was at best debatable and at worst a bad call.
Trouble was, though, that Jackson became consumed with it.
He griped about the call, as he so often does and did often on Saturday, then he evidently stewed about it on the bench.
Because when he returned to the game, about 9 minutes later, it still was at the front of his mind.
“Took me out of a rhythm, made it even harder for me to get (into) a rhythm when I came back in the game,” said Jackson, who was patient and gracious with waves of the same questions after the game. “I was playing a little bit timid. I was worried about picking up a third foul. Couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to be.”
As laudable as it was that he was candid, the message was that it was the referee’s fault.
That perspective apparently didn’t change much when he was the beneficiary of a call a few seconds after returning on a play he had so thought was his third foul that he began to walk toward the bench.
His frustration showed up in other ways through the night, whether it was squabbling with Landen Lucas after they clashed trying to grab a rebound only for it to end up in Oregon hands … or missing two free throws with a chance to cut into the lead … or not quite being able to pull in a rebound with KU down six … and griping again at officials as four teammates huddled late in the game.
All that said, Jackson grew a lot this season, during which he stopped considering himself a freshman a long time ago.
Graham told a story about that the other day.
“Guys come in as McDonald’s All-Americans sometimes, thinking that people owe them stuff and stuff like that,” he said. “You’ve just got to show them that once you come from high school and come to college, it’s a different ballgame. We’ve been here. We know what to do, and you’ve just got to kind of rough them up, toughen them up a little bit.”
In particular, Graham added, “One thing I used to do was, when we were playing pickup, I would just tell him he couldn’t shoot. ‘Leave him open. Leave him open. Let him shoot.’ It kind of got in his head. He told me he got in the gym and put up more shots because of that, and he became a better shooter.”
He became better in many ways.
But the abrupt thud on Saturday likely was his last game as a Jayhawk — and has an entirely different feel to it than the goodbyes being bid to senior starters Frank Mason and Landen Lucas.
Jackson said after the game that he hasn’t thought yet about whether this was the end for him at KU but soon will talk it over with his family.
It’s far more likely the end than not, though, and will leave Jackson just the latest prospective one-and-done to fizzle in his last game for the Jayhawks.
Andrew Wiggins, who entered Kansas’ 2014 NCAA Tournament game against Stanford averaging 17.4 points, had four points and four turnovers in the 60-57 second-round loss.
The one-and-done phenomenon, of course, is irresistible.
But it’s also a reminder that it’s a lot to ask a 19- or 20-year-old playing his first year of college basketball to be the difference-maker in the crucible — no matter how talented and coveted and bright his future might be.