Justin Jackson was one of three McDonald’s All-Americans for the 2014 UNC recruiting class. Joining him in the recruiting class was Theo Pinson and Joel Berry, and together they made the best recruiting class that UNC would see during the thick of the NCAA academic scandal investigation (it was also the very beginning of the worst of it). Other schools that offered Justin Jackson included Arizona, Ohio State, Washington, Texas A&M, and ACC-rival Virginia.
When Justin Jackson got to UNC, Roy Williams inserted him into the starting lineup right away. He played alongside Marcus Paige, JP Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, and Brice Johnson. Jackson was recruited as a sharpshooter, someone that would be able to stretch the floor on offense and take some of the heat off of the big men down low. During his freshman year, he was a serviceable offensive weapon, but early in his career he was a bit timid to attempt to make some of the big-time shots that he is now known for. In fact, a lot of the times those shots got passed off to Marcus Paige for the better part of the season.
What this doesn’t mean, however, is that Jackson was ineffective. In Jackson’s freshman year, he had an eight-game streak of scoring 10 points or more near the end of the season. He also has been known to go crazy during the post-season, and had two games in the NCAA Tournament where he shot above 50% (the outlier game against Arkansas he shot for 46%, so still really good). In the two games that he had a 50+ FG%, he also made every shot that he took from three-point land. He finished the year averaging 10.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, and 2.3 apg.
Speaking of rebounds, Justin Jackson came away with zero rebounds in a game against NC State, and it made assistant coach Hubert Davis come up with an idea to fix that. The deal was that for the rest of the season, if Jackson couldn’t come down with five rebounds in any given game, that he would have to babysit Davis’ kids. The following game after the deal was made, Jackson came down with seven rebounds against Virginia Tech. While he managed to avoid babysitting that night, Davis definitely got more than a few nights of free babysitting out of the Tomball, Texas, native.
Fast forward to his senior year, and Jackson became the star player that Roy Williams believed he could be. He became the 2017 ACC Player of the Year after beating out Duke’s Luke Kennard, and helped lead UNC to a NCAA National Championship. The difference between his first season and last season were pretty clear in some areas: his shot looked better, his movement on the court became more fluid, and in the NCAA Tournament we even saw him become aggressive to the point that he was becoming highly vocal on the court. After a disappointing loss last year to Villanova, Jackson did everything he could to help make sure this team could get redemption, and he was one of the most important reasons that it was achieved.
Justin Jackson’s strengths undoubtedly are in his shooting ability. His three-point shot by the end of his senior year was something to marvel. Every time that he shot the ball you thought it was going to go in. The more interesting part about his shot though, is where he releases it from and how quickly he gets the shot off. His release point almost looks like someone should be able to block the shot with no problem, but by the time a defender can even get his hand up there the ball is out and a lot of the times in the basket. Compared to his freshman year, he’s become a fearless shooter and it’s definitely paid off.
The other strength to his offensive game is what he does when he attacks the basket. Jackson’s ball-handling skills aren’t the strongest that I’ve ever seen, but he has grown up finding ways to mitigate the issue. His go-to move when attacking the basket in heavy traffic is his floater, which he said he learned when growing up because he wasn’t always the tallest kid on the court so he needed to figure out a way to score. Now that he has size and length, his floater is virtually unstoppable. It’s been impressive witnessing how many times he takes that shot and how often it goes in, which was always a LOT.
Other strengths of Jackson include his movement off of the ball and his vision on the court. Whenever he doesn’t have the ball on offense, you hardly ever see Jackson standing still. A lot of the time you would see him disappear under the hoop and come out the other end wide open ready to shoot a dagger. Sometimes it would take a while for him to break free of his defenders, as he isn’t ever the quickest person on the floor, but when he did he made defenders pay for it. His court vision was impressive for a small forward as well, and he always seemed to know when to make the right plays at the right time. This was big in Roy’s system because of how fast he wanted them to play, so you could blink and Jackson would have gotten the ball to Kennedy Meeks or Isaiah Hicks for the basket.
Justin Jackson’s biggest weakness undoubtedly is his rebounding. This has been a weird one for Jackson his entire UNC career because one would think his size and length would lead to a lot more rebounds than he got during his time at Carolina. More or less, the issue isn’t that he is incapable as much as it is that a lot of times he just didn’t go for it. Sometimes it was because one of the other big men were already in position to get it, other times you were just left wondering why he didn’t even try to jump up and grab the ball. He did finish his junior season averaging 4.7 rebounds per game, which is an improvement from previous seasons but he still could be a lot better on the boards. He is definitely capable, and hopefully he’ll be able to prove himself in that regard at the next level.
The second weakness of Jackson’s would be his defense. I’m hesitant to say it’s a definite weakness, because in the NCAA Tournament this year Jackson was an amazing defender. In fact, he is the reason that Malik Monk wasn’t able to get going in the 2nd meeting between UNC and Kentucky this year. However, Jackson’s defense definitely hasn’t been perfect for the better part of his career. Against the more NBA-ready players in college basketball, Jackson would get burned by players driving into the paint due to his somewhat stiff footwork/movement on the court. His three-point defense also wasn’t the best, and it wasn’t until near the end of the year when it really began to click for him in that regard. Basically, we will see which Justin Jackson on defense decides to show up in his first game wearing an NBA jersey.
5 Fun Facts about Justin Jackson
- Justin Jackson was homeschooled since the fourth grade.
- He is a very devout Christian.
- Theo Pinson and Joel Berry considered Jackson the worst dancer on the team (and yeah, some of it was absolutely cringe-worthy).
- Jackson also has a younger brother that UNC has their eye on for the class of 2020 named Jonathan.
- Two weeks after winning the National Championship Jackson proposed to Brooke Copeland, who plays basketball for the University of Florida.