It was “terrible,” Justin Jackson said, that he finished with no rebounds last week in North Carolina’s victory against N.C. State. So terrible, in fact, that assistant coach Hubert Davis came to Jackson with a proposition. Or maybe it was a threat.
“Coach Davis actually told me if I don’t get five or more rebounds, then I’ve got to babysit his kids,” Jackson, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward, said Sunday after he finished with seven rebounds in a victory against Virginia Tech.
It wasn’t just a one-time thing, though. Jackson avoided babysitting duty after that game, but the five-rebound goal will remain in place Wednesday night for UNC’s game at Wake Forest, and in all games after.
Jackson, the most heralded member of UNC’s three-man freshman class, arrived from Tomball, Texas, with no shortage of expectations. He has gone through the growing pains that come with the adjustment to college, but his performance against Virginia Tech this week – 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists – is a positive sign that he’s starting to find his place. And his confidence.
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That hasn’t always been there, he said Sunday. He has lacked aggressiveness at times and has had difficulty settling into his role on offense, too. In the victory against Virginia Tech, though, Jackson played with a purpose from the start and made five of his 10 attempts from the field.
“I’m feeling more and more comfortable out there, which with that comes confidence,” Jackson said. “Seeing the ball go through the net a couple of times definitely helps a lot.”
It has taken a while to reach this point. Roy Williams, the UNC coach, sometimes has bemoaned Jackson’s lack of aggressiveness.
Jackson has been efficient enough – after Sunday he has made 22 of his 32 field-goal attempts in ACC games – but he has had a tendency to watch the offense go on without him. He attempted just four shots from the field in a loss against Notre Dame, and he took just four shots against N.C. State.
He admitted he was tentative at times, that he didn’t want to make mistakes.
“I was thinking too much,” Jackson said. “I think that was the biggest thing for me, was I went out there and tried not to mess up, which in basketball at the college level, you can’t do that. So I think that was the biggest thing.”
Against Virginia Tech, Jackson provided a spark. He was a catalyst.
Williams had been encouraging Jackson to shoot more and to be more assertive. And for perhaps the first time in conference play, Jackson heeded the words.
“Well, I’ve told him he’s got to be more aggressive,” Williams said. “But you know, it’s not just taking shots or looking for your shot. It’s getting some rebounds, too.”
Jackson did enough there, as well, to avoid babysitting duty – at least for now.