Frank Jackson's belief in his ability has marked rapid path to becoming NBA draftee

by Jim Eichenhofer

From a performance that led to him earning co-MVP honors in the 2016 McDonald’s All-America Game, to his decision to join a top college program already replete with future NBA draftees, Frank Jackson has never lacked belief in his ability. During a conference call late Thursday with New Orleans media, the newest member of the Pelicans frequently cited that trait as crucial throughout his path to the professional ranks.

“I have all the confidence in the world in myself,” the Duke University product said, when asked about his decision to leave college after one season. “(Becoming an NBA player) has been a lifelong dream and goal of mine, and I saw it in front of my eyes. I wanted to go and take it. It’s something I’ve been planning on doing.”

The 31st pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, Jackson was the fourth Duke Blue Devil selected, after college teammates Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles were all chosen in the first 20 picks. Jackson, a 19-year-old who won’t turn 20 until next May, called the experience of playing at Duke an invaluable one as he envisioned the next step in his career.

“It was great. It taught me a lot,” Jackson said. “I know the NBA is the next level and the best players in the world. So I wanted to go to Duke, and be a part of a group of guys who are really talented. It taught me how to play with other guys like that, to prepare for the NBA.”

“He played with some upperclassmen, but he found a way to fit in,” the Pelicans' Dell Demps said of Jackson’s role at Duke. “There were times he really contributed to their winning. I think he has a huge upside. I really think he’s going to have an opportunity to be a really good player for the Pelicans.”

Demps noted that New Orleans has been aware of Jackson’s potential for multiple years; the Utah native was an elite high school prospect, resulting in his selection to the annual McDonald’s star-studded game. Jackson scored 19 points in 19 minutes, competing with and against 2017 top draftees including Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Tatum and Josh Jackson.

“It testified to me that I’m just as good as anybody in this draft class,” Jackson said. “I feel that way 100 percent. I just can’t wait to go out and prove it every day. It was moments like that to showcase my skills, and now I get to do it at the highest level.”

Jackson, who will be sidelined for NBA Summer League while rehabbing from foot surgery, is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall, according to Demps. The team’s general manager sees the rookie as a combo guard, with the ability to slide to either backcourt spot.

“We’re thrilled. We’re really happy to have him,” Demps said. “We think of Frank as a really complete basketball player. He’s a combo guard who can play the point and also the two. I thought he had a strong season for Duke. He’s young, but we’ll see how it goes, as far as his growth and development. We’re excited to add him to our program.”

Asked which guard role he prefers, Jackson responded, “I think I’m a very versatile player who can play both positions. I don’t really have an opinion. I’m willing to play wherever they need me to.”

Although he won’t be able to participate next month in Las Vegas, Jackson said he’s looking forward to bringing his skill set to the Pelicans later in the offseason.

“I’m super athletic, I’m quick, can defend multiple positions and am a good shooter,” Jackson said when asked to list his strengths and possible areas of improvement. “At the same time, you always have to adjust to the physicality of the NBA and get used to that. Maybe in ball-screen situations, making reads, maybe I need to work on that a little bit. But I’m excited to get going.”