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MikeCheck: From ‘Shammgod’ crossovers to cuddling pups and downing sno cones, Jackson adjusting to NBA home

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – On a recent offseason day of work, Jaren Jackson Jr. pushed through a conditioning session, then taught a group of Jr. NBA basketball campers how to do ‘Shammgod’ crossovers and, in the process, somehow managed to befriend a cuddly Aussie Shepherd named Grizz Lee.

Then came the day’s most difficult assignment.

Jackson tucked his 6-foot-11 frame beneath the canopy of a Memphis area shaved ice trailer and fingered his way through dozens of menu flavors during an impromptu stop for Sno Cones.

“What do I want? What do I want? What do I want? OK, I want a Harry Potter! What’s in it?” Jackson asked the vendor before being told it included some combination of butterscotch and buttered beer flavors. “OK, I won’t be ordering a Harry Potter then. So let me get a cotton candy.”

Jaren Jackson Jr.

It was all in a day’s work for Jackson, who the Grizzlies selected fourth overall in last month’s NBA draft. Sno cone flavors notwithstanding, some big decisions loom for Jackson as the 18-year-old phenom prepares for life as a potential franchise-altering NBA player after one college season.

With a productive summer league stint behind him and training camp two months away, we caught up with Jackson about his transition and how he’s getting acclimated to his new NBA home.

What’s the initial welcome been like for you in Memphis?

Jackson: “If you bring good energy, you get it back. That happens with any place you go, but especially a place like here. It’s very family friendly, everybody is supportive of one another and everyone wants to see one another succeed around here. And that’s what I came to do here, just inspire some kids, talk to some kids and kick it.”

In reality, you’re not much older than some of the kids at that basketball camp. Was that why it seemed so natural for you to drop in, instantly connect and have fun with them?

Jackson: “I was doing a lot of dribbling drills with the kids and being fun about it. Probably after a week of camp, they were probably doing some boring little layup drills, or there was no prize or maybe a fake prize or something like that. So I just tried to keep everything hyped and have the kids do Shammgod crossovers and do behind the backs, things I know they couldn’t do but would want to try.”

How much do you sense Grizzlies’ fans are looking to you as the No. 4 pick to help the team rebound from last season’s 22-60 finish?

Jackson: “They’re happy I’m here. They’ve embraced me like one of their own, like I played here (before) almost. With great guys coming back, this is going to be a big-time run we try to put on next season.”

You had a breakout debut in Salt Lake City, then made the All-Las Vegas Summer League second team. How have you processed your play over the Grizzlies’ 10 games of summer league play?

“I think it was good. It was OK in the sense of winning-wise. I would rather have gone farther (lost in the Vegas tournament semifinals). I think we went really far, considering we started in Utah and all the games we played, we played really hard. I definitely think that was a good stepping stone for the season. We were able to play (the Jazz) in Utah, so that gave it a feel of a real (regular-season NBA) game. I got a lot of things that I didn’t expect to get, like playing Utah in Utah.”

Jaren Jackson Jr.

As you look for improvement heading toward training camp, how would you rate your performance overall from summer league?

Jackson: “Whatever rating I have is whatever our record was, to be honest (Grizzlies went 6-4 in the 10 total games). In the (Vegas semifinal) game I didn’t play and we lost, you can’t do much about that. You can’t sit there and gripe about that one, but in the games you did play, could you have done more? If I kept focusing on what went great, like the (eight) threes going in that first (Salt Lake City) game, I wouldn’t improve. Once coach sends me the film, I’ll look at it in much more detail.”

What’s your biggest takeaway in terms of what’s next to work on the rest of the summer?

Jackson: “Definitely my motor, work on playing lower. I think you’ve got to be lower to get a good base so you can make quicker moves. I’m tall, so getting low is way down there for me. So it’s just about working on that type of thing.”

What’s been the biggest initial adjustment from playing in college to playing in the NBA?

Jackson: “There’s a lot more space, I tell you that. It was weird. I kind of felt there were a lot more spaces around the court where there are opportunities to do things – a lot more than college. So in that way, it’s refreshing. Guys are stronger and quicker, so it kind of makes up for it. So it was a different experience, but it was fun.”

Looking back, did that big performance, when you scored 29 points and made those eight three-pointers in your first summer league debut in Salt Lake City, surprise you?

Jackson: “No matter what, I wanted to get the win. We won. I won my first NBA game, so I was geeked about that. The only thing I wanted, selfishly, was for my first shot to go in. Whatever shot it was, a free throw or whatever (it was a three-pointer on the second possession of the game). So I was good after that. From there, it was whatever. It was that, and to get the win, for that first game only in terms of goals. When we did it, I kind of felt an out-of-body experience when I was shooting it from wherever I was shooting on the court and shimmying, doing all of that extra stuff. But yeah, it was fun.”

You didn’t shoot many threes after that in other games. Was there an adjustment in approach to focus on other aspects of your game?

Jackson: “It was whatever the defense was doing. I think the opposing coaches (adjusted) from the first game and were like, ‘We’re not going to give him every three.’ So it’s just about being able to adjust and take what the defense gives you.”

Jaren Jackson Jr.

This time last year, you were just moving into dorms at Michigan State as a freshman. Now, you’re moving into your own place as a NBA rookie in Memphis. What’s that process like for you?

Jackson: “We’re going to go search for (homes) in a little bit. We’ll drive around and I’ll find one. We definitely have to do that. The (anticipation), it’s been killing me. So that and just training, man. That’s what’s next. It doesn’t really matter where you’re at. Obviously, I’d rather be here (in Memphis) training because you’re around the facility and you’re around the coaches and what not. But you go back to East Lansing and see coach (Tom Izzo) and train there. You go out to L.A., and you train there. It’s just your job now. You’ve got to train and get it in. And that’s what the next weeks are.”

What’s been the biggest wake-up call as you get acclimated to the NBA being your fulltime job now?

Jackson: “If you want to work out, it’s not a coach calling you to work out. It’s you calling someone to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get in the gym, man. Let’s do this.’ This is a business. Coaches want me to work on my game. But my trainer, you pay your trainer now, so he’s helping you. It’s not like he’s badgering you. So now, it’s really all on you if you want to get working. It’s your responsibility.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.