Houston (Texas) HYCA
Class of 2014
UNC fans have lamented in recent years that Tar Heel commitments tend to drop after making their pledges, and for a time last year Jackson appeared to be next in line. Although he hadn't even announced, national scouts believed that Carolina held a clear lead.
And after some quiet performances through early EYBL sessions, the consensus top-20 prospect looked vulnerable to a fall. Too skinny, slightly stiff, and just average athleticism surfaced as the most common concerns.
But Jackson began to emerge at last July's Peach Jam, where he competed for the Houston Hoops against Nike's best players — most a full year older — and impressed all observers. He carried that momentum into his junior season and took yet another leap, showcasing new offensive wrinkles and setting the stage for a big spring.
He made time during the year to visit Chapel Hill officially and committed to Roy Williams shortly thereafter, choosing the Tar Heels over Arizona (which he also visited officially) and others without seriously contemplating another school.
At April's first two EYBL sessions, in Los Angeles and Hampton, Va., Jackson further cemented himself as a national elite prospect. He projects as a near-certain McDonald's All-American and could become the most touted recruit to enroll at UNC since Harrison Barnes in the fall of 2010.
Jackson's game illustrates the potency of simplicity. He's economical, relatively sizzle-free and tends to play in a straight line. Those qualities may not scream superstar, but within the parameters of his own style and talent, he has become a magnificent all-around contributor.
He does his best work in no-man's land, the area of the court 6-13 feet from the basket. Increasingly fewer players operate comfortably within that space, but Jackson actually has tailored his game to maximize his touches in those areas.
Utilizing a lightning-quick release, Jackson darts forward either off the dribble or off the catch and lofts in short jump shots. He can halt his momentum even moving at full speed to remain in control for very accurate results. He intelligently passes up open shots in order to work for better ones, and his preferred arsenal tends to catch defenses by surprise.
He sets up screens well and thrives when surrounded by more dominant handlers, yet he also boasts a sure dribble himself and possesses enough quickness to create his own shot. That said, he doesn't belong to the elite mid-range creation category inhabited by former Tar Heels such as Joseph Forte. Jackson isn't as quick or slick, but he's also very tall for a player who excels shooting from that range and few wing forwards maneuver well enough in traffic to defend him effectively.
Jackson also shoots threes at a respectable percentage. He used to rely more heavily on distance jumpers, but now he takes them more judiciously and rarely forces a bad one, not unlike former UNC wing Reggie Bullock.
When he's unable to get shots while moving toward the rim, he loves to employ high post ups against smaller wings. He typically sets up at 8-10 feet, and from there he patiently dribbles his way down another foot or two and launches accurate turnaround jumpers.
Meanwhile, he's a solid passer both in halfcourt and running the break, and he's an outstanding third ballhandler. At 6-8, that particular quality becomes even more valuable because he's tall enough to pass over most pressure-applying wings.
His defense gets overlooked due to his offensive proficiency, but I believe Jackson will become a fine performer on this end of the court as well. He uses his long arms and a wide stance to contain dribble penetration, and his lateral quickness and instincts are at least above-average. He has enjoyed some big rebounding games and makes timely blocks from behind as a helper.
I don't foresee him becoming UNC's top perimeter defender in part because I think he'll carry a substantial offensive load, but he's more balanced than most other high-scoring wings Roy Williams has recruited to Chapel Hill.
Jackson's intangibles also warrant mention. His game lends itself to high efficiency, but so does his attitude. He holds the talent to pursue his own opportunities at the expense of his teammates, but he simply isn't hard-wired to compete that way. He shares the ball enthusiastically and participates in the game's minutia more than most star players.
Clearly, Jackson must get stronger. He's naturally narrow through his shoulders, so it's unlikely he'll ever become a power wing. For that reason some opponents can overwhelm him physically, a problem that becomes aggravated when officials call looser games.
As mentioned, he's also not an elite athlete. Although more than capable physically in most respects, Jackson doesn't dominate as much as he picks his spots. He's more of a consistent, steady performer rather than a dynamic, bullying force.
I believe Jackson could become UNC's best freshman since Barnes and Kendall Marshall. He'll likely lack strength initially but should thrive despite that, given his advanced reach, skill and intelligence.
Given Carolina's need for wings in the 2014-15 campaign, and obviously contingent upon UNC's other recruiting successes, Jackson should have a strong chance to start as a freshman. Even given the typical adjustment period, I think he'll enjoy an outstanding rookie campaign and then could truly blow up as a sophomore.
Jackson's physical profile suggests to me that he'll need at least two years of college, but certainly it wouldn't shock if he's good enough to exit after one season. However long he's on campus, he'll likely make his presence felt in Chapel Hill.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly and writes a freelance column for USAToday.com. Rob is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and is on the selection committee for the McDonald's All-American Game.