Frank Jackson Makes Duke Likable Again
Rooting for Duke men’s basketball is like rooting for the New York Yankees. If you don’t have strong positive feelings toward the team, there’s a really good chance you have strong negative feelings instead. There really isn’t any gray area.
Everybody hated Christian Laettner in the 1990s, J.J. Redick always seemed to bask in the glow of opposing fans’ hatred for him and Grayson Allen spent a good portion of this past season tripping people like he was Matthew Dellavedova. Frankly, with antagonists like those guys, Duke always has been an easy team to hate.
They’re going to be a lot harder to hate than usual next year, though, thanks in large part to their incredibly likeable (and incredibly talented) incoming group of freshmen. A ton has been made about Coach K nabbing the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in the country in Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum, but a third elite recruit, McDonald’s All-American point guard Frank Jackson, also looks like every bit the future NBA star.
The way he talks about Duke, it almost makes you want to like them.
“Duke was always a dream for me,” Jackson told Basketball Insiders. “As a kid, you always look at it like it’s impossible. There’s no way. It was just a dream, but that dream came true this past summer. It’s just been a crazy experience.”
Jackson, who won both the McDonald’s All-American Game MVP and dunk contest title last week, hasn’t always gotten the press that Giles and Tatum have, but he’s a really solid kid with both the skills and measurables to be one hell of a basketball player.
At 6’4 he’s big for a point guard, and he offers a multifaceted offensive attack that makes him dangerous from pretty much everywhere on the floor.
“You can’t just be one thing,” he said. “You can’t just be athletic; you’ve got be well-rounded offensively, and that’s something I’ve worked on big time and I think it will help me at the next level.”
So far he’s proven that he’ll be an asset once he gets to college, but his choice of Duke is incredibly uncommon as a practicing Mormon from the state of Utah. So far, every single McDonald’s All-American from that state has played college ball somewhere in Utah. Jackson himself originally had committed to Brigham Young but eventually had a change of heart, meaning he’ll put off his mission work to play at the same school as fellow Mormon Jabari Parker.
Parker, though, had nothing to do with Jackson’s decision. Rather, it was the prospect of playing for Coach K, and Jackson remembers every detail of the first time he received interest from the most legendary coach in the college game right now.
“It was our first AAU event in Houston, Texas this past April, and Coach K and his staff were there to watch me,” Jackson recalled. “Right after the game Coach K texted me and told me that they’d be interested in watching me a little more closely. At first I was thinking, ‘There’s no way this is real.’ I thought somebody had to be messing with me. There was no way that was Coach K, but shortly after we built a relationship throughout the summer, and by the end of the summer I had an offer.”
Thankfully, he admits, he didn’t lock eyes with Duke’s head coach until he already had been pulled for the day.
“I didn’t know he was going to be there,” he said. “I didn’t see him until the very end of the game, which was good for me because I didn’t get psyched out or anything. I had heard he was maybe going to be around, but I never actually saw him until I came off the court, we were up by like 10 at that point and the game was over. I sat on the bench and saw him and thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I played really well that game, and I was glad that I did.”
His meteoric rise is just starting, but this time next year we could be talking about his pursuit of an NCAA championship or his preparations for the NBA Draft Combine, something he himself can’t believe are possibilities.
Despite it all, he’s trying to stay as humble as possible throughout this whole process.
“I still think of myself as just a regular kid who’s trying to have fun,” Jackson said. “I really hope it doesn’t go to my head. I don’t think it will because I’m surrounded by some great people. My parents have been awesome. But it is a surreal feeling, and I’m working really hard to stay grounded throughout it.”
So far, he’s doing fine keeping his head. There may not have been a more amiable kid in that whole McDonald’s All-American Game, and to see all the talent that comes with the charisma is a breath of fresh air for a team so many people loathe so completely. There’s a chance he’s even good enough to get some people to change their minds.
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