Mike Decker says Justin Jackson has a sense of humor – once you get to know him.
Decker would know.
Jackson, the Kings rookie small forward from North Carolina, was 11 years old when Decker met him through the Homeschool Christian Youth Association in Houston, which allows children who are home-schooled to compete in sports at a high level. Decker later coached Jackson in high school and said he’s always been grounded, which he attributes to Jackson’s personality, faith and upbringing.
That resolve would be tested when Jackson grew into one of the best high school prospects in the country, a designation that begs for bravado. No one would frown upon that; it’s kind of expected.
Just not from Jackson.
“He pretty much let his play speak for him,” Decker said. “Like if people would talk to him, he really didn’t get into all that. He’d just keep his mouth shut and score 30 on you instead.”
The Kings have quickly become enamored with Jackson’s mature demeanor. He will loosen up with time, but the Kings love his approach to the game.
“You see guys that rise above, and he’s one of those,” said Kings summer league coach Jason March. “You can trust him on the floor; he’s going to do the right thing, or try to do the right thing, every single time.”
March said Jackson quickly picks up plays, can create his own offense and generally knows his place on defense.
“I try to listen to what the coaches are telling me and try to change it for the next time,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to be a guy that they have to continually tell the same thing to – that’s what I try to pride myself on. Hopefully I can continue that.”
Head coach Dave Joerger is eager to see how Jackson fits with the rest of his teammates.
“Justin Jackson is going to be same guy,” Joerger said. “He’s a complementary guy, with four veterans he’s the same guy easily, where with other guys it’s a little different. It’ll be interesting how it all comes out.”
Jackson likes hearing the coaches have faith in him, but he says he won’t give in to complacency. He plans to work on “everything” about his game prior to training camp in September.
“It’s a confidence builder, for sure,” Jackson said. “Knowing going in as a rookie, going in with the type of vets we have, the type of guys that are returning, I’m going to have to find my spot wherever it might be, wherever the coach needs me to be. It definitely feels good to hear that, but from there, each and every day I have to try to get better.”
Decker said Jackson has always maintained an even keel and he couldn’t recall a moment when he was rattled in high school. How will that psyche hold up in the NBA? Decker can’t be sure, but he’s confident Jackson will be ready.
“He’ll just do the right thing,” Decker said. “Despite what others are doing around him, he’ll just do the right thing and usually it’s contagious.”