After ‘redshirt’ year, Frank Jackson ready to begin NBA career on court this week

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

New Orleans 2017 second-round draft addition Frank Jackson has dealt with periodic adversity in various forms during his basketball career, but what he went through in 2017-18 was a brand-new experience. The Duke University product had never missed significant time while playing hoops in high school or college, but was forced to sit out all of what would’ve been his rookie NBA campaign, due to a right foot injury.

After what was essentially a “redshirt” year, when Jackson joins the summer league Pelicans in practices this week at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, it will be the first opportunity for New Orleans media and fans to glimpse what the 20-year-old combo guard might be capable of at the pro level. Intangibles-wise, the Duke University player received off-the-charts grades from NBA teams a year ago, which partly resulted in him being the first draft pick of Round 2.

“Any time you get a player that comes from Duke, the first thing you think of is Coach K, and him demanding excellence,” Pelicans Director of Player Personnel David Booth said, referencing Blue Devils legend Mike Krzyzewski. “For Frank to be able to play for Coach K, that tells you he has a high basketball IQ. Their success rate with point guards, going all the way back to Kyrie Irving, we knew (Jackson) had to have something special to even get recruited to play at Duke. He’s a player who can think the game first.”

That’s one trait Jackson hopes to demonstrate in Las Vegas, where he’ll join two-year Pelicans veteran forward Cheick Diallo, as well as 2018 Pelicans second-round pick Tony Carr, as the most prominent faces on New Orleans’ roster. Jackson’s NBA career may be starting a year later than expected, but he’s not behind schedule when it comes to what he envisioned as a young player. After enrolling at Duke, Jackson was far from a lock to be a one-and-done collegian, taking a wait-and-see approach to his decision on declaring for the draft. He averaged 10.9 points as a freshman for a Duke team that went 28-9.

“To be honest, I had no idea,” Jackson said of how long he projected it to be before turning pro. “I always thought about (the possibility), but never really knew. I went into the year saying, I’m going to give my max effort, play as hard as I can, and at the end of the day, make a decision. But I never really looked at it like that was the goal (of his freshman season).

“I wanted to put myself in the best position to eventually get to the league. You see a ton of guys come out of Duke, you see the credentials they have and the relationships they have with Coach K. At the end of the day, I’m glad I made the decision I did. It was the right one.”

Family first

Like Pelicans teammate Jrue Holiday, Jackson comes from a very successful, closely-bonded family. His father was a state senator in Utah and his parents – who’ve been married for 20-plus years – emphasized education, one reason he chose to attend well-respected Duke.

“I think I’m super fortunate to grow up the way I did,” Jackson said. “I’ve got two parents who’ve been there my whole life and are both good examples. From a young age, they taught us to have good character and always put God first, and He’ll take care of the rest. I was taught to be a good person and goal-oriented. As a young kid, (my parents’) message was always, ‘Get your work done, then you can go play.’ If I didn’t get schoolwork done, I couldn’t do other things. They both valued education, and both of my parents are super smart. When you’re educated, you can do a lot more in life.”

Booth: “In interviewing him and speaking with him off the court, he’s a serious kid. He’s a mature kid. He takes basketball very seriously, and his work ethic is off the chart. He dealt with a foot injury but he studies a lot of film, watching film with (Pelicans lead assistant Darren) Erman. He’s a very good student of the game.”

It was an approach that also quickly endeared Jackson to Duke’s coaching staff, which has helped produce countless NBA players over the years.

“I loved coaching Frank,” Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer said. “All of us did. The first thing you noticed about him is he’s an amazing competitor. That’s something you love to see. He competes every day.

“Throughout the course of his season, he grew and matured, in terms of how he played on the court. His development and understanding of the game, by the last stretch of the year, he was starting for us at point guard and playing his best basketball of the season. That’s a credit to his growth and also his mindset to want to become better, attack practices and how to put in the work.”

Back on the floor

For obvious reasons, it’s been difficult to pin down specifically what Jackson’s strengths will be as an NBA player, something he’ll begin to show this week, while facing pro competition for the first time. But Scheyer was impressed not only with Jackson’s natural talent, but how he adjusted over the course of the ’16-17 season with the Blue Devils.

“Frank has God-given ability in terms of his athleticism, his quickness,” said Scheyer, the leading scorer for Duke’s national championship team in ’10. “He had that coming in. But figuring out how to use that to the best of his ability offensively, and probably more important defensively, was key. He really improved on defense off the ball. Secondly, his understanding the game (improved). He’s always been in the mindset of attacking and scoring, which is great, but at the end of the year, he started creating shots for teammates. Understanding his moments in terms of when to drive, when to shoot, when to pass – he came a long way in those areas.”

At 6-foot-4, 202 pounds, Jackson has a sturdy build that should help him defensively in the pros. His shooting numbers at Duke were very good, especially for a backcourt player, including 47.3 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three-point range. In the final 15 games he played for the Blue Devils that season, his rates in those categories jumped to 49.6 and 42.9, respectively.

“His improvement was significant,” Scheyer said. “He was terrific for us, especially at the end of the year.”

“Athletically he’s off the charts, with the way he gets to the basket,” Booth said. “He can contort his body and use the rim to finish around the basket. His jump shot is also something that’s a weapon right now, especially off the dribble. I think he has the tools to be a good defender at the NBA level.

“Character-wise, you know what kind of kid you’re getting, number one. We look at Frank as a kid who still hasn’t even scratched the surface, because he’s still young. We look at his upside and what he could become in two or three years. His best basketball, we haven’t even seen a glimpse of it. He definitely has room to grow. His upside is what we are really valuing.”

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