I was never hyped up as the best high school basketball player in the country, and I also didn’t play high school basketball beyond our intramural leagues, so a disproportionate amount of what I’ve gleaned about life as a top recruit comes from watching He Got Game. I asked Josh Jackson how far off I was, and some other stuff, while I reported this story on his rise for SB Nation. An extended interview transcript with this extremely high character dude with an extremely bright basketball future is below (the interview took place in May):
Louis Keene: How’s high school?
Josh Jackson: It’s good. I’ve been doing the same thing for a pretty long time, as far as sticking to the same schedule, like just going to school and playing basketball and going to practice. I’m pretty used to it.
Are you still practicing now that the season is over?
Are you still in finals right now? How much longer are you going to be in California?
We don’t have Finals for another two and a half weeks, so I got maybe another 3 weeks out here.
Nice. Are your summer plans set yet?
Well I graduate high school on June 2, and I have to be on campus at Kansas on June 7, so I’m pretty much gonna graduate here, stay here a couple more days, and then go straight to school.
Cool. Do you know who your roommates are going to be or what your living situation is gonna be there?
I think Carlton and Lagerald are going to be there.
Do you know them already?
Oh yeah. I’ve known both of them for a while already, even before they were in college.
So- you’re in the National Honor Society- congratulations on that! What’s your favorite subject?
Math. I really love math.
Do you want to major in math?
Probably won’t major in it – I think I’m going to major in communications.
Your mom mentioned that you’re interested in broadcasting.
I am – probably something I’ll do after basketball.
Is that what you’d be doing if you weren’t playing basketball?
Maybe not. I don’t really know what I would be doing.
Fortunately you don’t have to think too much about that.
So you’ve been to two high schools now – starting at Detroit Consortium and now at Justin-Siena. What’s the difference been between them?
Well, one was a lot smaller than the other, and the places that they’re in, are two completely different places, so obviously the people at the schools are gonna be different. But, the difference between them, I think the kids at this school are a lot more friendly than the people at the last school were.
What about the basketball?
Oh, yeah, the basketball here is not good at all. [laughing] Nah, this school? No. The basketball at this school? No. I don’t mean — wait, wait, that sounds bad. Cuz – Prolific Prep isn’t a school, it’s just a team, so the school that I go to has a team but they’re not good at all, and we all go to the school, but we don’t play for the team.
As far as the basketball program – what’s the difference between the coaching experience been like?
I think playing here, I have a lot more talent playing on my team than I’d ever had on any high school team that I’d ever played on, and I think the coaching was phenomenal in both places. I think more, back to when I played in Detroit, my coaches fathered me more, they treated me more as a son, and these coaches I have now, although I know that they care, it’s more just basketball. You know? Both good places, I mean obviously I had a winning season every year I’ve been in high school, and that’s had a lot to do with my coaching.
Is it weird to play so far from home and away from family?
Umm — not really. I mean, I’ve been doing it pretty much my whole life, with AAU, traveling and playing basketball, so I’ve felt like this season and last season playing at Prolific Prep, it’s just pretty much year-round AAU basketball, so I’m pretty used to it.
Was there any adjustment period – moving out to California, getting accustomed to making your own schedule, stuff like that?
Really just getting adjusted to the time zone. Like I said before, when I was in Detroit, I did pretty much the same thing that i do here now, just go to school, practice, play basketball, play games — I really don’t do too much outside of it. Being here, obviously the weather’s a lot nicer out here. Napa’s really – it’s kinda, not much here. Not many people, a lot of empty space, you get time to yourself. It’s not just too many people here. A place like New York, I could never live there — it’s too many people.
Is that why you wanted to go to Kansas? Kind of in the middle of nowhere, in the midwest?
Not really, but I guess that’s a plus.
Why did you end up switching high schools to Prolific? I saw somewhere that your mom had said she didn’t want you to go the prep route. So, what did you see in Prolific that you liked, and she liked?
I knew the coaching staff really well, they were all really good people, I get pro workouts pretty much every day. The education at this school that I’m in now is a lot better than the education I received at my last school, and as far as basketball, I felt like in Michigan, each year that I went up, the competition went down a little, so I really came out here to play against the best competition.
Like your high school schedule in Michigan wasn’t difficult enough because you were getting better?
Do you read the rankings? Do you have any idea of, kind of the hype, and stuff like that?
Yeah, I do. In the beginning, when I started off, young, coming up, I was never like really the best player on my team. I wouldn’t say I really started getting good until about 8th grade, and ever since then I’ve just kept working and trying to add to my game.
Is 8th grade when you started growing? What changed?
I grew a little bit. I grew probably 2 inches that summer – I was probably 6’2, 6’3 in 8th grade.
Were you playing point guard then? Did you get sized up to be a forward or a center because you were the tallest guy around?
Sometimes, a little bit. But my coaches – every team I’ve ever played on, my coaches have allowed me to play every position.
What do you miss most about being away from home for a lot of the year?
Really just my family, friends. Couple places I like to eat, like White Castle. I miss White Castle.
You have In N Out.
I don’t really like In N Out.
Interesting…so you would take White Castle over it?
Interesting…we can agree to disagree on that.
You’re a Tupac guy, right? What’s your favorite Tupac album?
Would Tupac be your ideal background music on your hoop mixtape?
What would be the ideal track?
I’m not sure. Probably some Future.
Why did you decide to leave the dorms? I talked to [your host parents] and they told me the story about you taking up their offer to move in with them. What was wrong with the dorms?
Nothing was wrong with the dorms, I just felt like, you know, living with [them], I would be able to experience being out here more, being able to go more places and do more things. Just for a better experience.
Do you think of them as, like, almost like surrogate parents, or adopted parents?
Oh, I definitely look at them as parents. They are.
Describe them to me as parents – what are they like as parents, or as roommates?
They’re really cool. They’re some of the coolest parents you could ever have. They give you a lot of freedom, a lot of leeway, they’re real straight up. They don’t really ask for much, just for you to be honest with them. They really care about everybody. They have a lot of people over all the time, they meet a lot of new people. I noticed that whenever they meet new people they treat everyone the same. They like everybody, they’re real friendly.
They sound friendly on the phone. They told me they made you a lot of food, and you ate all of it.
Yeah. I got sick.
What’s the story there?
I just didn’t want to make anyone feel bad, like ohhh I didn’t want to eat their food. It was pretty good, but I ate it, and they just gave me more, so I just kept eating it.
Well I guess if you’re trying to put on weight for the next level of competition, that could be a pretty good game plan.
So what are you going to miss about high school?
What am I going to miss…friends, really. A couple teachers I’ll really miss. That’s really about it. I’ll miss playing high school basketball, for sure.
What do you like about the high school circuit?
The high school circuit, I felt like for me, hopefully a lot of the players I’ve been playing with in the McDonald’s game, and in USA Basketball, those guys I’ve come to have a real relationship with, a real friendship, and hopefully later down the road we could all meet up again, and I just think that would be real cool. To play each other, and to play on the same team.
So, since I was not a highly touted basketball player back when I was in high school, I don’t know what it’s like, so my only understanding of it is from He Got Game. Is the experience that wild? I mean, not in the wild parts of that movie if you’ve seen it – but just in the amount of attention, and you know, the people around you, is it like that at all?
It is. Yeah, sometimes it can be. Not all the time though. Sometimes you can control it, and sometimes you can’t.
Control which parts?
Control the amount of attention you get, or how much access people get to you. I think back then, when the movie was made at that time, I don’t really think people could really get access to players like that as easily as they can now.
Interesting. I think also back then, you had a lot of agents and stuff who were trying to get players to go professional. And that’s one thing that the rule change, that you can’t go straight from HS to the NBA, that’s kind of gotten agents out of it.
But is it weird to have colleges calling and all that? What’s been the most surprising thing about the whole experience been for you?
The most surprising thing…pretty much, I think being here, just being in this position is the most surprising thing to me. Looking back as a kid, I watched players who were in my position before, and I just looked up to them. I never thought I’d be able to be where they are, or where they once were.
Do you solicit any of them for advice?
Oh yeah, a couple of them.
Draymond Green, James Young, Andrew Wiggins, Gerald Green.
How have you been connected with them? I know Draymond and Wiggins went to schools that were recruiting you. But how do you get in touch with someone like Gerald Green?
Gerald Green, we have mutual friends, and he just heard about me, heard that I was a pretty good player, and we’ve actually worked out together before.
He’s another incredible athlete. Has he given you any tips on becoming more athletic or something? Does he have Michael’s secret stuff?
Nah, he hasn’t given me the secret yet.
What does Draymond tell you, or what does Wiggins tell you?
Both of them, I can say this about them honestly. Although people may think this, neither of them ever tried to persuade me to go to either of their schools. I think the relationship I have with those two is more like a big brother little brother relationship. They’re just phenomenal at giving me guidance, things to look out for, what to do, what not to do, when I get to where they are, if I ever do. Who knows.
What’s one piece of advice they’ve given you?
One, Draymond gave me, it was, keep my circle small. Can’t have too many people around, can’t trust too many people. And Andrew told me, that I will always have days where I question myself, like can I do this? Why am I doing this? Do I really want to do this? But he told me in those times, making sure I work hard is important.
That’s awesome. I’ll try to remember that for myself. And I say that because I have my first intramural game tonight.
Thanks. Okay, so, I’ve been watching some of your highlights while researching this. Do you watch your highlights at all?
Sometimes, like when they first come out I do.
Does it like, pump you up? Do you look at it as film study?
Sometimes I do. I try to notice little things I did, or even for things that worked out for me, to see other options or things I could have done different.
I’m assuming you’re a big NBA fan?
Are you a Pistons fan? Or you root for the whole league?
I root for the whole league. I just want to see great players be great, good teams playing together. That’s all.
Did you see Game 5 [of Spurs and Thunder] last night?
I think that’s going to be one of the biggest games of the whole playoffs. Just the future of those two teams, of Westbrook, Durant, all that stuff.
I think the playoffs are going to get better.
Really? You think the Western Conference Finals are going to be better?
Oh yeah. And the championship.
Can anyone beat the Warriors?
Yeah…they can, I think Oklahoma or the Spurs, whoever wins that series, one of those teams can beat the Warriors. If anyone beats the Warriors, it’s going to be one of those teams.
OK, now let’s say you’re thrown on Portland, and you’re assigned to guard Curry tonight. How are you going to stop him?
Uh, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way you can really stop Curry, you just try to contain him. Just try to keep a close guard on him.
Who’s been the best at guarding you so far?
Best at guarding me…hmm…man. …Josh Langford. I’d give it to Josh Langford.
What context have you played against him?
USA Basketball practices–the Hoop Summit, McDonalds practices. I think those two, he guarded me almost every practice, and I think he did a real good job.
You’re known as kind of an introvert off the court, but then on the court, you suddenly go off and start talking trash to Gary Payton. What about basketball brings out the beast in Josh Jackson?
I don’t know. It’s just, competition. I just wanna win, so, I don’t know. The beast comes out.
What kind of teammate are you?
I’m a great teammate. I’m always cheering my teammates on. Everybody on my team knows I don’t really care about scoring, or about being the star of the team. I really just wanna win. As long as we’re winning, I will always be happy.
What about as a leader of the team? You’re one of the only upper classmen on Prolific. What kind of leader, I guess, are you? Are you vocal? What’s your style?
I’m pretty vocal. I’m kind of, more of a coach on the court, like sometimes when my teammates make mistakes –well, these teammates, the ones that I have now — some of them are lower classmen. They’re really coming up and they’re still learning a lot, so you really gotta teach em, and I think that was real helpful, for me this year, becoming more of a leader. I try to teach em when they make mistakes, tell them what they could have done different, or what they were supposed to do. Sometimes they don’t see a guy open, and nobody ever says anything, but even plays later, you still gotta tell em, like hey, that guy was open in the corner, so they won’t miss it again.
Is that something you think will be expected of you from day 1 at Kansas?
Probably – I think so.
Why did you end up choosing them, if I may ask?
I felt like it was the best combination of both worlds, academically, and as far as basketball. You mentioned the broadcast thing, I want to get into that, I can get a media internship when I go there, I can start with the local radio station, and broadcasting over radio sometimes. And you know obviously, they have a phenomenal history with the team, and Coach Self is a great coach, I think he produces some really great players, teaches them, and I like how when he gets the great ones, he really coaches them, coaches em tough, still tries to teach em. I felt like that’s why I chose Kansas.
And of course, Coach Hudy, she’s a great strength and conditioning coach, I feel like she would be the best to get my body to where it needs to be.
Tell me more about her – how do you know about her and what’s your relationship with her been?
Well, when I went on my official visit, she showed me and my mom around the weight training facility, and every player there, she just — one thing I always noticed about Kansas players is that, I always think that they’re the biggest and the strongest, I think like wow, these guys are huge when I see them. And then when I get there, and they’re like yeah, we got the best strength and conditioning coach in the country! And she comes out and she’s a woman, and I’m like what? She’s a woman?! And she’s a tough lady too. She gets on em, she’s really strong, I’ve seen her pick up weights that guys on the team can’t pick up.
So is that — would you say that getting stronger is number one priority?
Getting stronger, more flexible, just being overall healthy, I think.
What about shooting? When I read scouting reports, that’s the one thing that I see people say maybe could get a little bit better. But also, your shot is also very personal, it’s hard to just say, do this different.
I guess it’s just shooting more shots, working on my shot more, I plan on doing that a lot. I don’t feel like I’m a bad shooter, but I feel like I could get a lot better, and Coach Self is explaining to me and my mom how he’s going to get that better.
I was gonna ask – when they’re recruiting you, do they say “These are what we think you need to do better, and here’s how we’re going to help do it”, is that generally how it works?
Little bit. Not too much explaining, really. As far as my shooting and how they’ll push me, he did explain that a lot, he said within our dorms, where we live we have a gym downstairs where you walk in, and I can go down there wherever I want and put up as many shots as I want, whatever time. And just having the access to be able to do things like that, will really help.
I think some people want to know what took so long for you to decide where you were going to commit. Was there a delay, or did you just want to wait until after the season?
I just felt like it was a tough decision. Honestly, going through it, I felt like, you know ultimately, either decision that I made, I felt like I would be okay, that things would work out fine. But I just wanted to really think about which would be the best and where I would have the best experience of all three. And I just felt like it was a really important decision, and I didn’t want to have any regrets after making it.
I can’t anticipate you having regrets about it. Kansas is awesome.
I think so.
Chris and Wynne said you love cartoons. What’s your favorite to watch?
Phineas and Ferb.
Are cartoons your main non-sports cartoon watching? Do you watch any Netflix?
I don’t really watch a lot of Netflix – I do watch Walking Dead when it’s on, that’s my favorite TV show. Outside of that, I’m probably watching sports.
What about challenges? What’s been your toughest moment on the floor as a player?
Couple games where we were close to winning, but in the end, with a couple seconds on the clock, when you know you’re about to lose.
Was there a particular loss that was hard?
This year, oh yeah. One game, back in Detroit we played this year against Thon Maker’s team. We were down two, and we had the ball, and I had the ball coming down the court. There were 5 seconds left, I drove to the basket, got an And 1, laid the ball up. The ref called the foul, but he said it was before the shot, so we had to take the ball out, we just threw up a shot and then we lost.
Wow. Classic high school basketball refereeing.
I think that was the toughest loss this year, especially because it was back in my hometown, I hadn’t played there in a long time.
You’ve also dealt with personal loss in your high school career — your coach passed away after your freshman year. Tell me about Coach Anderson and what you learned from him.
I learned a lot from him – like i said before, coaches in Detroit that I had were more like father figures to me. He was really one of them. I think playing for him my freshman year was the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt like I was playing to make him proud, I was playing for him, and to be able to play under him, to have a great relationship with him off the court and to make him proud, it was real special for me. I would always try hard and try my best every play.
Coach Tuomi — what do you like about him as a coach?
He came into a tough situation ,the year after our last coach had passed away. The guys and I were a little skeptical about him in the beginning, coming in as a new coach that we didn’t know, and especially having the type of relationship that we did with our last coach, didn’t help him much. But he stuck with us. We made it a little hard for him in the beginning, we didn’t listen to him a little bit, we gave him a tough time, but he stuck with us, and he disciplined us, made us run, do bear crawls all the time.
I remember this one time, the rule was, if you missed a practice no matter what, you had to do bear crawls the whole practice. That’s where like, you get on your hands and feet and crawl up and down, back and forth, the whole practice. And one kid on our team, his name was Rudy, he had stomach flu, and he had been in the hospital the night before, so he didn’t come to school or practice, and when he finally got better, he came to practice and Coach was like all right, now start doing your bear crawls for all the practices that you missed.
That’s how you win their trust.
But yeah, we knew he was a good guy. We really trusted him. I think he was a really good defensive coach – his main thing was defense, and that’s why we won that year, because we had really good defense.
Defense is known kind of as your signature skill, along with transition slam dunks. Why do you pride yourself on defense?
I just wanna win so bad, and I know you got to do it to win, so I’m trying.
Tell me about your mom, because she deflects any credit for how you’ve turned out — and I sense that you think she has a bigger deal to do with that than she does.
She does, she definitely does. She deserves a lot of credit, but my mom’s always been there for me. Always had my back. I’ll never be able to thank her for all she’s done for me. I just hope that one day — well I feel like I have made her proud, and I just hope to continue to make her proud.
You mentioned during the McDonald’s game that she helped you stay focused when you were thinking about quitting. What’s the story behind that?
There was a point in time where I felt like basketball wasn’t fun for me anymore, and it just started to feel like more of a job.
When was that?
This was the beginning of my junior year – right before my junior year started. And I would do a lot of thinking, my mom would talk to me all the time, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to play. But I just remembered to have fun — it has to be fun, that’s the most important thing, and as long as you’re having fun, you’ll love the game.
What did she tell you to get your mind in that place?
Just to have more alone time to myself and think about it. She was supporting me the whole way through, and she told me that — she knew that I didn’t really want to quit. She told me to think about it, and just continue to work hard.
She said that part of that had to do with you getting a cell phone and seeing what people were doing, and wanting to be more part of it. Can you confirm/deny?
Deny. Not at all.
She also mentioned you had to sit out at one point with growing aches and pains — was that around the same time?
That was way earlier – that was before my freshman year.
Also: your dad passed away – how has that affected your outlook?
Having him pass away was real tough on me. Especially being the second close person to me to have pass away. But, just try to remember that he’s never really gone if I always have him in my heart, and think about him. He’s always here with me. And just try to remember things that he’s taught me, and just that if i keep doing what I’m doing and working hard, that I’ll continue to to make him proud.
What kind of impact did he have on you as a basketball player?
He’s the reason I’m as tough as I am on the court. I remember he bought me my first basketball hoop, and we put it up in the backyard and I used to play against him. He didn’t take it easy on me, like ever. He would block my shot into the trees, and he would foul me sometimes, hard, and I really felt like i could beat him, and I used to just always try, and I’d get so mad sometimes and I would cry because he would always beat me. But he was just always tough on me.
When you have a son or daughter one day, will you play them the same way?
Oh yeah. For sure.
Your mom said you could improve your time management. What’s that about?
I kind of procrastinate a bit, when it comes to things I don’t want to do. Just procrastinating.
Have you made it a goal to be the 1st pick in next year’s draft?
I haven’t really made it a goal. My goals for next year are to become the best possible player that I can be in that timeframe, and to help my team win as many games as we can. I think those are my two goals.
Last couple of questions: How good are you at basketball?
Honestly I don’t think I’m that good. I think I’m an okay player. I think what separates me from everyone else is that I think I think the game a little more than everyone else. I think my basketball IQ is a lot higher than a lot of other players.
And how good are you going to be?
I think I’ll get better once I develop a little bit, get a little stronger, work on my shot a little more. I think in the next year, I’ll have more time to work on my game. I think I’ll make a huge jump and be way better than people have ever seen me.
Nice. Are you looking forward to your first national TV game with KU?
Oh yeah. Can’t wait.
They haven’t released the schedule yet, have they?
They don’t have the complete schedule yet, but I believe our first game is against Duke at Madison Square Garden.
Oooh, that’s awesome. Have you played at the Garden before?
I have not.
That’s awesome. They have Giles…
And Frank Jackson, and Jason —
Are you worried?
Am I worried?
A little bit.
A little bit. Rightfully so though. I respect their games and how good they are. But they should be more worried than I am.
Is there anything else you want to say, or that I haven’t asked about but should be asking?
Not that I can think of.
OK – here’s one last question. Your mom talks about it taking a village. What are your thoughts on that idea, and how it’s applied to you?
110% agree with it, and I am an example of that. I’ve met a lot of people in my life who have all contributed to me being who I am, and having the amount of success that I’ve been having with basketball. A really long list of people. I think meeting — I think the most important thing in life for humans is to just have relationships with other people. It’s all about who you know, what type of relationships you have with them – it can go a long way.
How will you pay it all back?
Do it for the next kid. Do it for my kid, or any of his friends. Any kid that I meet and needs my help, I’ll help him.
What do you want to do with basketball? It’s gonna be your career – do you have any bigger picture hopes, what you want to accomplish with it?
I really just want to be the best player that I can be. I want to see how good that I can actually be, if I work really hard. I want to always win every game that I play in, even though it’s not going to happen. I just hope to have an outstanding career. I don’t know — I don’t know how to define an outstanding career. I don’t know.