Jayhawk Insider: Jackson looks back fondly on March Madness experience
By Mitch George
PHOENIX – Josh Jackson remembers the 2017 NCAA basketball tournament vividly.
After handily defeating UC Davis in the opening round, Jackson and the Jayhawks advanced to play the Michigan State Spartans in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the Round of 32–a matchup that had an emphasized meaning for Jackson.
“That year, the final three colleges I was choosing from were Arizona, Michigan State and Kansas,” said Jackson, who is currently in his second season playing for the Phoenix Suns. “I had a good group of friends who went to Michigan State and played for the team. Being able to play against them in the tournament and come out on top was really memorable for me.”
Jackson, who grew up in Detroit, dropped a team-leading 23 points on March 19, 2017 against the team that plays just over an hour from his childhood home.
The 6-foot-8 forward credits the coaching staff with genuinely caring about him both “as a person and as a basketball player,” ultimately luring him away from head coach Tom Izzo and the green and white.
In the game, he slightly edged former MSU forward and current Charlotte Hornet Miles Bridges, who scored 22 points.
The game added another chapter to a lengthy saga between the two. Bridges grew up in Flint, Michigan, and has been friends with Jackson since early middle school.
“As the game went on, I felt like the game started slowing down, it came to me a little bit more,” Jackson said following the victory. “I just had to realize it was just another game, and it was about Kansas basketball versus Michigan State, and it wasn’t about me versus Miles.”
Bridges returned to Michigan State for his sophomore season, while Jackson declared for the NBA Draft and was selected by the Suns with the fourth overall pick.
Although the NBA demands a special set of skills, Jackson noted that there’s nothing quite like March Madness.
“I think in March, you just have to be more focused,” he said. “The little things matter a lot more at that point. It matters more because any game you lose, that’s the end. You’re going home. You really need to pay attention to detail and make sure you’re on the same page as your teammates.”
In the 2017 tournament, Kansas advanced to the Elite 8, defeating No. 4 seed Purdue in the Sweet Sixteen before falling to No. 2 seeded Oregon.
In order to avoid repeating the same destiny, Jackson says the team needs to find one aspect to hone in on and do it better than anyone else.
“They just need to find their team identity,” he said. “Whether it’s ‘We’re the toughest team in the country,’ ‘We’re the three-point shooting team,’ or ‘We’re a defensive team.’ Finding an identity is really going to help them going into March.'”
Perhaps more notably, Jackson recalled the best piece of advice head coach Bill Self ever inflected to him: “Always be yourself.”
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