LAS VEGAS — 1Nation’s slogan is “Globe on Fire” — a collective mantra to light up basketball. On Sunday in Las Vegas, 1Nation burned its way to an AAU title and Josh Jackson lit the match.
Jackson, a 6-foot-6 small forward ranked No. 1 by Rivals in the Class of 2016, scored 22 points and had several key rebounds and blocked shots in the closing minutes to help 1Nation top BTI Select 56-49 for the 17U Invitational title in the Fab48 tournament at Bishop Gorman High School. Devon Daniels added 15 points in the victory.
Isaiah Brooks scored 10 points and Josh Hauser and Bobby Xu scored nine each to lead BTI.
The 17U Invitational title game was a highlight moment for the Fab48, a four-day basketball extravaganza that drew a capacity 384 teams, including five 17U divisions composed of 208 teams. A marquee attraction was Canada Elite and its 7-foot-1 superstar center Thon Maker, who is already on some NBA draft boards.
The title itself capped an intense, satisfying day for Detroit-based 1Nation, which needed overtime to top WeR1, a rival from the Under Armour Association, 66-65 earlier in the day to reach the final. Jackson scored 20 points in that game.
The title game’s second half briefly portended another nail-biter. 1Nation led 41-40 with about nine and a half minutes to go, but then turned it on. With about four minutes left, Jackson rebounded one of several errant three-point shots to stop BTI’s momentum. And with about two minutes to go, he converted a key three-point play, scoring a layup in traffic and adding the free throw to put 1Nation up 52-46.
Guard Spencer Littleson said with the game close, 1Nation focused on positivity. To find its flagging shooting stroke, he said his team kept shooting, and Jackson helped create those shots.
“Feeding off Josh is pretty easy because he makes it easy for everyone else; he’s a pass-first guy,” Littleson said of Jackson. “If you get beat off the dribble, you just know he’s going to step up and help you.”
Jackson, who led the Under Armour Association in rebounding, “rebounds like a center,” according to Littleson, who said he also moved the ball like a guard and keeps the pace with the offense in transition.
Despite his scoring heroics, Jackson preached teamwork.
“No one’s really that good when you’re trying to play by yourself,” Jackson said. “You can’t win like that. So we just had to come together and play as a team, rebound and defend. And that was it, that’s the game.”
Jackson, who has been recruited by Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Las Vegas’ own UNLV, said it was satisfying for 1Nation to win its first tournament of the summer, and especially the Fab48, which includes Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings among its alumni. Despite the buzz surrounding him, Jackson said he doesn’t even think about his recruiting ranking.
“Not at all, not even a little bit,” he said. “That’s just someone’s opinion of me and a couple of other kids. I’m always going to be me and play my game no matter what, no matter what anyone else says.”
1Nation coach Terrence Robinson praised Jackson’s selflessness, saying he’s always looking to make the next play for his teammates. And 1Nation rose to the challenge, he said, capping a full week of preparation.
“It wasn’t like it was just the one last game,” Robinson said. “It was a culmination effort. It was a complete effort from everyone that got us to that point. And … these kids played for each other. They played team basketball the way the game is supposed to be played.”
The result was hard to swallow for Pasadena, Calif.-based BTI and coach Mike Teller. He said he thought BTI defended Jackson and 1Nation well early on, but wore down toward the game’s end. And Jackson made things hard, Teller said, blocking shots and stifling penetration.
“A big part of it was that offensively, our team is a great shooting team and we weren’t able to hit shots like we normally do. We weren’t taking the ball out of the basket like we usually do. They (1Nation) were able to get out in the open court, get some dunks, and get their energy going a little bit.”
In the short term, Teller said, BTI saw that there are many ways to win a game and that one little spurt, however brief, can change everything. If 1Nation hopes the blaze of victory makes its program shine brighter, Teller hopes the singe of defeat sparks his team to reignite.
“What (the team) can take from it, what we all can take from it is the burn, the burn that you feel when you lose a championship game like that,” he said. “You’ve had such a great season and you’re a couple of possessions away from a championship. It’s that burn that will fuel all of us to correct our mistakes.”