CHICAGO – Josh Jackson is quite an eerie enigma.
He’s earned a reputation for kicking butt and taking names on the court at a level of dominance that makes you throw around the word “legendary”, all while giving off an alpha male bravado that’s made him the most polarizing player at the McDonald’s All American Game, which tips tonight at the United Center at 9 p.m. EST.
Yet, off the court, everyone agrees he’d give Mr. Rogers a run for his money in the “nice guy” department.
“Yeah most people don’t know me off the court because I don’t show that side or do that many interviews,” said Jackson, a 6-foot-7 wing at Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) who will suit up for the West. “I’m opening up more now. The reality is me on the court and me off the court are two completely different people. Seriously, it’s so different I should come up with a name for the guy on the court.”
Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) point guard Alterique Gilbert said the contrast in Jackson’s personality on and off the court was the most noticeable of any of the McDonald’s All Americans.
“It’s easy to notice the difference in Josh on the court and Josh off the court because he’s so different,” said Gilbert, a Connecticut signee who will team up with Jackson on the West. “Off the court, he’s easygoing; just a nice guy. But on the court he’s an animal. He’s gonna win; whatever that takes, period.”
The root of Jackson’s on-court persona lies in this premise: He doesn’t think he’s the best player when he walks on the court; he knows it. He’s got to know it, that’s what makes him who he is.
And no, he doesn’t mind issuing a reminder or two over the course of a game.
Jackson was named Biggest Trash-Talker by his peers in the 2015 USA Today summer ball awards and superlatives.
“I was very proud of that one!” said Jackson, who was named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA first team. “I definitely feel like I’m pretty gifted as a trash-talker.”
That said, Jackson was no match for the greatest trash-talker to ever step onto the hardwood, Hall of Famer Gary Payton.
Jackson traded verbal jabs with Payton while playing against his son in late January.
“Yeah I’d have to give it to him, he won that one,” Jackson said of Payton. “But I won the game so… It’s funny though, off the court, I’m definitely not the guy who walks around trash-talking. People think I’m this angry, rude person, and rightfully so; I give them every right to think that because I’m intense on the court. But away from basketball I’m really quiet and settled.”
He’s not talking “normal teenager settled” either; two of Jackson’s favorite nonathletic pastimes?
Playing the saxophone and chess.
“I’m pretty good, I’ve been playing the saxophone since I was in the seventh grade,” Jackson said. “I don’t do things that everybody else does. I was more excited about going to Ronald McDonald House than anything. I met a 3-year-old kid named Robbie. He was cool; didn’t speak much, but we decorated and ate cookies, bowled on the Wii, colored, we had a blast. I’ll always remember that; I hope he will.”
ESPN analyst Reggie Rankin spent a few days on and off the court with Jackson at the Under Armour Elite 24 last summer and can attest to Jackson’s split personalities.
“Josh is the best competitor in high school basketball,” Rankin said. “He’s got a great motor, great instincts and he plays to exhaustion. Off the court he’s one of the most pleasant guys that I’ve been around. Always greets me with a hug, great personality; just a really nice kid. But when he steps across the line, he’s coming for you. As a former coach I absolutely love that.”
In “the next few weeks” he’ll decide between Kansas, Michigan State and Arizona, and, as with every undecided elite recruit, Jackson maintains that he “can’t go wrong” with any of the three.
He sat through nearly two hours of hordes of scouts and reporters recycling the same, dull recruiting questions over and over Tuesday at media day.
“The attention is cool sometimes, but I don’t like it most of the time,” Jackson said. “With my decision what it comes down to is who can I trust? Who can make me a better man? Whose office can I walk into and have real talks with. That’s the school that will get me.”
Both of him.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY