Thursday’s NBA Draft will be a life-changing night for some of the best collegiate and international players. Only sixty players will be selected. Among the favorites to be picked early on is forward Justin Jackson, a former member of the North Carolina Tar Heels, the 2016-17 NCAA Champions. I had the opportunity to speak with Justin before the draft, where he shared his thoughts about what basketball has taught him.
Was playing for the Homeschool Christian Youth Association an advantage or disadvantage to being recruited by a college?
I wouldn’t say it was either one. AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) was the main place I was being recruited from. So, that’s where they saw me and then, you know, school basketball, they were able to come to practices and stuff like that. I guess you could say it was a disadvantage, but they were still able to see me play a little bit.
When you were younger what was your favorite team and who was your favorite player?
The [San Antonio] Spurs have always been my favorite team and my favorite player is George Gervin. He’s an old school guy, but those two were my favorite.
If you decided tomorrow that you didn’t want to play basketball anymore, what would your next career be?
Probably doing something with coaching. I like to coach. It would definitely be something with sports.
When you played while you were younger, who were the people who helped you realize your potential?
My parents, and then a few of my coaches when I got older kept telling me that if I worked hard that I could do some things with basketball. I started believing more and more and it started to translate.
What were the most important things that Roy Williams from North Carolina has taught you both on and off the court?
Something big with him was preparation. So, no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s in life or on the court, always trying to be as prepared as you possibly can for it. And as long as you do that, just leave everything up to just going out there and doing it.
After the loss in the first National Championship to Villanova, how did you approach the second championship against Gonzaga differently?
You know, I just didn’t want to lose [again]. So I tried to do anything I possibly could to try to help my team and try to get us over that hump. So, just trying to learn from some of the mistakes that we had last time in the championship game and trying to change that and hopefully help a little bit.
Which college opponent did you find to be the greatest challenge?
There were a few. Malik Monk [from Kentucky] was really hard, Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard from Duke were really hard, and then Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey from Oregon, and Nigel Williams-Goss from Gonzaga were really hard.
How does your major at North Carolina of exercise and sport science help you during the games?
There’s a bunch of different classes that talk about how athletes think and the kind of things that they do. So, maybe just kind of learning how people’s minds work on the basketball court. It’ll maybe help a little bit.
You were named 2017 ACC Player of the Year last season, and how did that feel?
It felt good. It was definitely an honor, a blessing to be named that. It’s all good because of all the hard work that I had put in before that. It definitely felt good and it just motivated me to keep on working hard.
Being part of a team is special, and you had a very successful team in North Carolina. How do you credit your teammates with helping you grow as a person and as a basketball player?
My three years in North Carolina were huge as far as maturing on and off the court. I think my teammates were a big part of that as well. You know, as far as on the court, just trying to grow together and learn together, trying to get better, and just everyday they were all big. And then, off the court, trying to figure out what I really wanted in life, trying to ground myself in what I really believe in. I had some teammates that were like-minded, so they helped a lot along the way, doing that.
Were there any particular teammates that you were very good friends with or somebody that really helped you along the way?
Yeah, so, Luke and Kenny, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams, they were my roommates for two years. And so they were probably the ones that I grew the closest with. They’re actually in my wedding, so having them alongside me, we're like-minded, it was really, really good to have them.
Do you go through any rituals pregame or postgame?
So, pregame, I just usually pray before every game before tip-off. And then, I’ll read, some type of Scripture before the game while I’m in the locker room. And then other than that, just kind of listening to my pregame music. And then after the game, not really anything I do after the game. Just maybe go eat afterwards or whatever.
When you’re working out for the NBA teams, what is the process and do you enjoy it?
Yeah, it’s a bunch of fun. It’s long and it’s kind of tiring, having to travel so much and do all these different workouts but it’s fun. It’s where I want to play one day and this is kind of the first step of the process, so I’m enjoying it.
What is your advice to young basketball players who have dreams of reaching the NBA?
Just continuing to work hard, never settle and never be satisfied with whatever you may accomplish. Use that as motivation to continue to work and always just be yourself, and whatever your sport is, just be yourself. Just try to be the best you that you can be.
Photograph by Chris Steppig/NCAA Photos/Getty Images