Some might ask what position Cincinnati senior Justin Jackson — a slender 6’8″ forward — would be best suited for in the NBA. Others, like Jackson himself, don’t spend too much time thinking about that.
“I don’t really give myself a size, I’m just a ballplayer,” Jackson explained to Hoops Rumors. “I can be a one up to a five. I’m just going to do whatever is asked of me, like Tony Allen. He’s 6’4″ and he’ll guard someone like Kevin Durant. It’s a big size difference but he knows how to guard him. I’m the same way. I’m 6’8″ but I can move like a guard and guard up to a five,”
The reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year has spent four years proving to observers that he’s capable of pesky D on the inside and on the perimeter. With a 7’1″ wingspan, Jackson has long limbs that are designed for disrupting a ball handler and clogging passing lanes. He excelled in standard defensive measurements (2.9 blocks per game, 1.6 steals per game), and his play also inspired the sports information department at UC to keep track of his pass deflections per game and leaps into press row. The question he expects to get peppered with a lot between now and June is whether he can be a contributor on offense, as well.
Showing off a mid-range game will be important for Jackson, who was asked to score most of his points off of putbacks in college. Bearcats coach Mick Cronin told Sports Illustrated’s Kelli Anderson earlier this year that his message this season was, “I don’t need you to take more shots; I need you to score more points.” Cronin pushed the senior to tailor his game so it would look more like that of Bearcats alum Kenyon Martin, which led Jackson to play with more power on the offensive end. NBA prospects could do a whole lot worse than taking after the former No. 1 overall pick, but Jackson knows the jumper is still essential at the next level.
“I can hit open jumpers and I’m a great passer. I’m not going to say that I’m Durant with the basketball, but I’m the guy who when KD breaks their man down and you need an open 15 footer knocked down, I can do that. I’m a great role player,” the 23-year-old said.
Jackson was able to back that up at the Portsmouth Invitational just a few weeks ago, averaging a double-double in front of a litany of NBA scouts. His solid performance, he says, has only made him more eager for his next showcase. Jackson’s mission is to show that he’s not only well-rounded, but also mature and ready to help a team win immediately.
Because there are still folks who worry about Jackson’s size, he’s hard at work near his hometown in Florida putting on weight. The forward played this year at around 230 pounds and he hopes that when it gets closer to draft time, he’ll tip the scales at 240. Expect Jackson to get a lot of looks later in the second round, especially if he gets the opportunity to defend against different positions in workouts.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.