Josh Jackson Hopes To Extend USA Winning Streak At 2016 Nike Hoop Summit
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When Josh Jackson (Justin-Siena H.S./Prolific Prep Academy, Calif./Southfield, Mich.) takes the floor for USA Basketball in 19th annual Nike Hoop Summit on April 9 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon, he will be one of the USA team’s most experienced players.
Along with two of his 2016 USA teammates – Terrance Ferguson (Advanced prep International/Dallas, Texas) and Jayson Tatum (Chaminade College Prep/St. Louis, Mo.) – Jackson has won three gold medals with USA Basketball, including U17 and U19 world championships, and he is 19-0 in major, international competition.
All that before he even gradates from high school.
In 2015, despite being among the youngest players on the USA team, Jackson, Ferguson and Tatum helped the United States win gold at the FIBA U19 World Championship in Greece. Jackson averaged 12.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
“It meant a lot, actually,” Jackson said of starting in all seven of the USA’s games. “Even from U16 and U17, I believe I’ve started every game I’ve played with USA Basketball.”
When first asked about his experience at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship, however, Jackson was quick to recall another aspect of the tournament -- one that obviously has stayed with him.
“It was a great experience – after the fact, after winning,” Jackson said. “We actually went into overtime (in the gold medal game) and almost lost on a play that I made on defense. I stole the ball from a kid (Croatia’s Luka Bozic), with I would say about two seconds left, and we were up one, and the ref called a foul when I took the ball from him. I don’t think it was a foul, but they did. The kid shot two free throws and made (the first) one. That was my fifth foul. I fouled out of the game. I had to watch the game go into overtime, and I had to watch my team lead us to victory.”
He still may have a slightly disappointed taste in his mouth from having to watch the dramatic finish, but soon he will have a chance to replace that.
The 2016 Nike Hoop Summit will see 12 of the USA’s best high school seniors take on a World Select Team of top international players who are 19 years old or younger.
“It’s a lot different than U.S. basketball, for sure,” Jackson said of international basketball. “They are a lot more physical, very physical, and it’s faster. There is a shot clock. I had never played with a shot clock before. Moving up through the years, from U16 to U19, we witnessed the talent that was against us was getting a lot better each year.”
While the World Team roster has yet to be announced, Jackson does anticipate facing a very talented international team.
“I expect them to play physical, tough,” he explained. “I know they really want to beat us, so they are never going to give up, no matter who has the lead. I just expect a tough game.”
Playing alongside and against the best players in his age group, from the United States and from around the world, has taught Jackson how to handle himself among the best of the best.
“I will never forget that U16 tryout – well any of the tryouts, actually,” said Jackson. “Every time I go there, it kind of tests my confidence a little bit. I’m around so many great players. So many players who are just as good as I am, if not better. And just being in that type of environment where there is so much talent, is really intimidating. To see how I moved up through it and how each time I went, we won. It was just great. It was a great success and a great accomplishment.
“Just having a little bit of confidence in myself, and just trying to play hard,” Jackson said of how he faces his nerves. “I think that’s the main thing that already separates me from a lot of players is that they don’t play as hard as I do. Even when I’m not scoring, I’m rebounding, I’m blocking shots, I’m playing great defense. Just the small things. Worry about the things you can control. And stuff like rebounding, that is pretty easy, it just takes effort.”
Jackson went from the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship this past summer into his final season of high school basketball in California.
“My senior season went pretty well,” he said. “My goal during the season was to win every game that I played in. Unfortunately, my team and myself, we couldn’t do that. We made a good run at it. I think we won a lot of games that a lot of people didn’t expect us to. And I think we did a lot better than we expected to. So, it was good to see where we were compared to all the other great teams in the country.”
After growing up in Michigan and playing varsity as an eighth grader, freshman and sophomore at Detroit Consortium College Prep, Jackson moved to California, where he attends Justin-Siena High School but plays basketball for Prolific Prep Academy.
“We just have a regular season,” he explained. “We don’t really have playoffs. We have a bunch of games scheduled, and we just play until we are done playing.”
Prior to transferring, Jackson admitted he wasn’t sure if it was the right move for him to make.
“I was so nervous,” he recalled. “I’m a bit of a momma’s boy. I love my mom. I always want to be around her. So, I definitely did not want to leave home. But, looking back on it, it was the right decision.”
He laughed off whether he had become a California boy at heart after two years with a resounding, “no,” but he did say there are things he loves and does not love about both places.
“Oh yeah, I do,” he said when asked if he misses Michigan. “Mainly just friends and family, people who I’ve grown close to. I think that’s the thing I miss the most. But being from Michigan, I hated the cold. I hated the winter. Shoveling snow all the time. To come out here and live in this weather, I’ve really enjoyed it.
“Another thing that I’ve really liked about California is the type of people that I’ve met while being here. I really think it was a good decision for me to come here and play here, because I’ve met so many people who have been a real influential part of not only basketball but in my life. If I never would have come out here, I never would have met these people.”
There is another plus for the undecided top prospect. When he goes to college in the fall, though he may not yet know where that will be, it will not be the first time he is away from home.”
“Most times, going to college is the first time being away from home. So, for me to have some experience and some knowledge on how to handle being on your own by yourself and how to still be responsible, I think it will help me.”
Jackson has narrowed his college finalists to three possible choices, including the University of Arizona, the University of Kansas and Michigan State University.
Although Arizona and Michigan State made early exits from the NCAA Tournament, Jackson said Wildcat and Spartan fans should not worry about that.
“I saw,” Jackson said of the losses. “Just watching college basketball all this year, there have already been so many upsets during the regular season. I could just tell how March Madness was going to go, because so many teams were already losing. So, I knew it was going to be a pretty ugly year.”
What he is looking for in a school is not just about wins and losses.
“Number one is the trust factor,” Jackson said of his selection criteria. “I just want to be around people I can trust and who are going to push me to become better on and off the court. Two is style of play. Each team plays pretty fast. I think that is where I’m best, when we are playing fast, or in the open court, transition. Three, I kind of already said it in the first one: to be under a coach who is going to push me and not just kiss my butt because I am who I am or they want me so bad. Push me to get better.”
Until the fall, Jackson is responsible for pushing himself to get better, which right now includes a focus on, “my shooting and a little bit of my ball-handling.” He works out every day after school, goes home, does homework, eats and then prepares to repeat that schedule the next day.
“Because I know my goals and where I’m trying to go in the future, and I know just how hard I have to work,” Jackson said of what keeps him motivated. “And I’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve probably been sticking to the same schedule since I was about 9 or 10 years old. So, I’m pretty used to it. I don’t find it that hard to maintain.”
With his history of hard work, it is no surprise that Jackson has found so much success in his young career. He and USA Basketball fans are hoping he finds a way to help his country secure another win on April 9.
“Just trying to get a win, at all costs,” Jackson said of his goal for the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit. “It is going to mean a lot to play on my fourth USA Basketball team. It’s like I said before, trying to go and get a win with so many great players on my team, and on the other team, that’s going to be a tough game. So, who ever wins is definitely going to have some bragging rights.”
Don’t miss Jackson and his USA teammates in the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit and get your tickets now: bit.ly/NHXtix.