Justin Jackson was not unlike any other top draft prospect who attended the NBA draft lottery, curious to see what the ping-pong balls would decide for the first 14 picks in the NBA draft on June 22.
Then it dawned on the North Carolina forward that he was different.
“It’s funny because, when I went to the draft lottery, we were sitting at a table and I looked around and I was the only non-one-and-done sitting there,” Jackson said.
Jackson, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year with the 2017 NCAA champion Tar Heels, is a projected first-round pick who the Kings could consider with the second of their two first-round picks that offers a more mature option amid the one-and-done era.
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His first pre-draft workout is Wednesday in Sacramento, one of two group workouts the Kings will host.
Jackson spent three seasons at North Carolina, emerging as a first-round prospect who fits what the Kings are seeking as they look to redesign their image and fill a need on the roster.
The Kings are in need of a young small forward, even if the team is able to re-sign Rudy Gay. They are looking for who they consider high-character players to blend into a locker room filled with youth and short on experience.
The Kings have two first-round picks (fifth and 10th) and one of them is likely to be used on a freshman like Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox. The team will be young, but the Kings would ideally not simply collect teenagers.
Jackson is 22 and comes from one of the more storied college programs under renowned coach Roy Williams. He averaged 18.3 points last season.
“For me, it’s an honor and blessing just to be here, no matter what age I am,” Jackson said. “But to also see my decision go back (to North Carolina) and to improve so that I’d be in a better decision this year, to see that decision play out pretty well, it feels pretty good.”
Jackson (6-8, 200) would add much-needed size on the perimeter for Sacramento to go with its collection of shooting guards and big men.
There’s also the character aspect, which the front office has touted as part of the new culture it wants to establish.
Jackson’s faith is a big part of his life. He played for Homeschool Christian Youth Association, where he was one of the top recruits in the nation in 2014. At a time when no one would look at Jackson sideways for being single and enjoying life, he proudly boasts a picture of himself and his fiancee, Brooke Copeland, a basketball player at Florida at the top of his Twitter feed.
So if the Kings are looking to avoid players with character issues, Jackson would be a high prospect.
Jackson said his way of life is not something he has to convince teams is real. It’s always been a part of who he is, but he concedes there is probably more attention on his Christianity during the draft process, when everything about players is examined.
“I’m not trying to sell anything. This is who I am,” Jackson said. “So when they ask me to tell them something about myself, that’s what I’m going to tell them, exactly who I am and the things I believe in.”
Jackson will be joined by Oregon’s Jordan Bell and Kansas’ Frank Mason, two more highly regarded players in the first workout, along Utah’s Kyle Kuzma, Florida’s Devin Robinson and Virginia’s London Perrantes.
Bringing Jackson in for a workout is already a step in the right direction for Sacramento’s outlook.
The Kings convinced just one first-round pick to visit the team last year prior to the draft (Wade Baldwin), even though the team held the eighth overall pick in the draft.
Players and agents had avoided working out for the Kings with the hope Sacramento would pass on them amid the team’s constant turnover in the front office and coaching staff.
Bell was one of the nation’s premier defenders and is considered a late first-round or early second-round selection by some prognosticators.
Mason was the consensus National Player of the Year in leading the Jayhawks to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Kings are expected to have more first-round talents work out this season after the team did more work to rebuild its front office by adding vice president Scott Perry to the mix to go with general manager Vlade Divac.
Kings’ pre-draft workout participants
Jordan Bell (forward, 6-9, 225) Oregon
Justin Jackson (forward, 6-8, 200) North Carolina
Kyle Kuzma (forward, 6-9, 221) Utah
Frank Mason (guard, 5-11, 190) Kansas
London Perrantes (guard, 6-2, 192) Virginia
Devin Robinson (forward, 6-8, 200) Florida
Seth Allen (guard, 6-1, 190) Virginia Tech
James Blackmon (guard, 6-4, 200) Indiana
Tyler Cavanaugh (forward, 6-8, 238) George Washington
Moses Kingsley (forward/center, 6-10, 230) Arkansas
Luke Petrasek (forward, 6-10, 215) Columbia
Jordan Washington (forward, 6-8, 235) Iona