Kaunas (heinnews) – Justin Jackson was not supposed to do this. He was not supposed to go from a youngster who picked up a couple of minutes into one of the hottest prospects emerging from the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship.
But that’s exactly what happened to the Canadian guard, who at 15 was the youngest player at the Kaunas tournament but played well beyond his years on the court and sounded anything but an overwhelmed youngster in interviews off it.
“When we first looked at Justin we thought about bringing him along for the experience and giving him some minutes here and there. But Justin’s proved to be one of our best players if not our best player in this tournament. His growth throughout this tournament has been amazing,” said Canada U17 coach David DeAveiro.
His growth of experience isn’t the only thing that increased during the Kaunas tourney. Jackson also rose in prospect status – almost game by game – as he continued to make talent scouts in the Zalgiris stands drool over his talent.
After averaging 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 11.0 minutes over the first two games, DeAveiro started giving Jackson more run – at least 23 minutes in each of the last six games. And the East York native averaged 13 points, 6.8 rebounds (4.5 of them offensive rebounds), 1.5 assists and 2.5 steals over that stretch. He collected 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals – and 6 turnovers – against the eventual champions United States and his composure showed he belonged on the court against the future college – and in many cases NBA – stars.
“It proves well for Justin. He’s really matured over the last month with this group. To think about a 15-year-old to be away from home for a month and come out here and play on the world stage and do what he’s been doing is pretty impressive,” added DeAveiro.
“He’s an up-and-coming player. He makes some mental mistakes with turnovers. But he’s learning and he’s really young,” said Canada teammate Marial Shayok.
While it’s a joy to watch Jackson on the court, it’s just as much a pleasure to listen to the young man present himself with a strong level of self-confidence and humility in the catacombs of Zalgiris Arena.
When asked how he felt about being the youngest player – and only one born in 1997 – at the U17 Worlds, Jackson answered with some introspection not necessarily expected for someone his age.
“It’s a humbling experience to know that I can come here to a new place and do something that I love, which is to play basketball at an older age level because I know that I have a future in this sport,” said Jackson after two games in the tournament.
“And I know that I have my teammates – aka my older brothers – who can help me and show me because I will be on this same team next season because it will be my age group again.”
After Canada had clinched fifth place, Jackson sounded even more confident that he belonged on the court.
“I’d say I’m just as good as anyone else here. I deserve to be here. If I didn’t deserve to be here I wouldn’t be here,” said Jackson.
“I’m just thankful for that. And I just thank my teammates for guiding me and giving me talks and advice on everything on how to compose myself.”
When asked what was the biggest thing he had learned in his first experience playing for Canada, Jackson again sounded wise beyond his 15 years.
“Fatigue means everything. I’m not used to this. This is my first overseas experience. And I’ve stayed up late a little, just trying to enjoy myself a little. But I wasn’t thinking about the task at hand. About getting that gold medal,” said Jackson, who plays at Charles Gordon.
“If I’d have to give advice to anyone else out there, I’d say fatigue means a lot; get your rest, eat properly; and keep focused.”
Jackson could play next season once again for Canada’s U16 team. But there is also the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in Czech Republic. And Jackson could be part of an amazingly talented group of underage stars for Canada along with Shayok, 17-year-old Andrew Wiggins and Trey Lyles, who turns 17 in November.
“I’m just thankful again for my name to be in the category of really great players. And there’s no other place I would rather be,” said Jackson.
As always with Jackson, the humility shines through the enormous talent – how refreshing.