COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Even before he hits the July travel-ball circuit and the recruiting stretch-run madness after that, Josh Jackson will have already visited the Arizona campus and played under coach Sean Miller.
That’s the kind of advantage the Wildcats probably need.
Jackson, after all, is no ordinary recruiting target. He’s a versatile, tough 6-foot-7-inch wing from Michigan who might be the top player in the high school class of 2016, or at least among the top five.
Even at age 18, Jackson already has made an impact among incoming college freshmen and sophomores at USA Basketball’s under-19 training camp, along with other 2016 big names such as Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and UA commit T.J. Leaf.
What he lacks in age, Jackson is making up for with experience and talent. He already has won two gold medals with USA Basketball, on the 2014 FIBA U17 world champion team and the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 champion team.
Yet, even with all that status and experience, Jackson is still carrying a rookie’s nerves heading into the roster cutdown today from 21 to 15 or 16, with a final cut expected later this week to get down to the 12 players who will compete in the U19 world championships starting June 27 in Greece.
“It’s always nerve-wracking,” Jackson said. “Even those two years when I thought I played well, I was really nervous about making the team. I wasn’t sure. You can never be sure. What you gotta do is come out there and give it your all.”
With Arizona, of course, the concern is twisted the other way. The Wildcats don’t know if they can make Jackson’s cut. Their chances may have improved last week when he visited the UA campus.
“It was a great place, great environment, great atmosphere and obviously (you could see) the previous years of success,” Jackson said. “It’s just a really good school. We talked a lot of academics and I liked what they were telling me.”
Although Miller says USA Basketball isn’t about recruiting, even though he’s the U19 head coach, it can’t hurt. After all, the Wildcats secured a commitment from five-star guard Allonzo Trier just two months after Trier played under Miller, who was an assistant coach on last summer’s U18 team.
“I think it plays a role for both Sean Miller and Josh Jackson,” Scout analyst Josh Gershon says. “For Sean, he gets to know what kind of kid Josh is, how hard he works and what he needs to work on. And for Josh, he’s gaining familiarity with Sean, not only as a coach but as a person. They have a lot of time to talk. It is an advantage.”
Still, as of now, a full 75 percent of analysts polled by 24/7 Sports’ “Crystal Ball” say Jackson is headed to Kansas, with the other 25 percent predicting Arizona. But Jackson says his recruitment is still open and that he’s not concentrating on picking a school until after he tackles college entrance exams, anyway.
“I’m pretty much open to whatever school wants to recruit me as long as I feel it would be the right place to go, a nice place to be,” he said. “Although schools (may) have a great history or great program or great teams, a player has to make sure that school would be the right place for that player.”
One criteria, for sure, that Jackson is seeking: His college program will have to be highly competitive.