While UNC and Duke basketball were drawing national attention during Coach K’s last home game and the 2022 ACC Tournament, a top recruiting target for both programs made plenty of news of his own.
A recent coaching change has only added to the stir.
The short of it: the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils both remain in contention to land G.G. Jackson, a five-star 2023 power forward considered the No. 1 overall junior in the country by some media outlets. And South Carolina’s Monday firing of coach Frank Martin gives UNC and Duke even more short-term opportunity.
At the same time, don’t expect any rash decisions.
Jackson, 17, prompted some social media buzz on March 3 when he told reporters he was planning to commit in “two or three weeks.” A day later, he released a top six schools list of UNC, Duke, Auburn, Georgetown, hometown program South Carolina and the fledgling NBA-backed G League Ignite team.
Those two decisions, coming after Jackson and Ridge View High School capped off their season with a state championship win in South Carolina’s top classification, certainly indicated some recruiting finality.
Days later, Jackson’s father pumped the brakes.
“We’re still a ways off,” Greg Jackson told The State’s Phil Kornblut last week. “(G.G.) threw out there that two to three weeks and I don’t know why he said that. If something does happen in the next two to three weeks, it will be him on his own.”
Greg Jackson also told the newspaper: “At the end of the day, we want him to be happy and be able to live with the choice that’s made. I told him the final decision is left up to him, but we want to guide him to make sure he gets it right the first time. That’s where we’re at right now.”
G League lingers
As detailed by Kornblut, Jackson’s decision is really more of a three-part decision.
First, he must decide between a college or professional route to the NBA. The start-up G League Ignite team actively recruits top high schoolers and offers them salaries in the $500,000 range to spend a year in the professional ranks, as opposed to a one-and-done college season, before bolting for the draft.
It’s risky. Most notably, G League Ignite players forfeit their college eligibility and may not receive the same exposure they’d get at, say, a college basketball blue blood. But the team also produced three NBA draft picks last year, including two of the top seven selections in Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga.
“The G League is still an option,” Greg Jackson told The State.
But it’s not the only option. Traditional college programs made up five of Jackson’s top six finalists, and he has officially visited four of them: UNC, Duke, Georgetown and South Carolina. (Auburn is the other.)
If Jackson takes the college route, which most insiders have predicted, he’ll have a bit more of a complex decision as of Monday afternoon. With a Columbia campus just 15 miles from Jackson’s high school, South Carolina leaned heavily on the hometown hero angle. Now the Gamecocks are without a coach.
Martin was a key part of South Carolina’s pursuit of Jackson, and the Gamecocks had even picked up some insider predictions to land his commitment on 247Sports, Rivals and On3. But Martin’s firing after 10 seasons raises immediate questions about USC’s chances of keeping the state’s top player in state.
“This definitely has an effect because (Martin) recruited me as a coach and is close with my family,” Jackson told 247Sports’ Travis Branham on Tuesday.
Based on insider predictions, UNC and Duke have an upper hand on Auburn and Georgetown. Hubert Davis’ program held three 247Sports Crystal Balls to land Jackson in the fall (now down to two) as well as a Rivals FutureCast. Duke, ever present in such races, picked up its first two Crystal Balls on Monday.
Which leads to Jackson’s third decision: staying in the junior class of 2023 or reclassifying to the senior class of 2022, which would let him graduate early and join his basketball team of choice later this year.
Listed at 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds, Jackson could certainly hang at a college level. He averaged 22.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks for Ridge View this season en route to a state title and statewide player of the year honors. A lithe, do-it-all forward, his play has earned him Jerami Grant comparisons.
How does that apply to UNC and Duke? The Tar Heels signed four recruits for 2022 (one, Will Shaver, has enrolled early) and the Blue Devils signed six. In the 2023 class, UNC has one verbal commit and Duke has two. Coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer’s 2022 and 2023 classes both rank No. 1 in the country.
From Martin’s firing to UNC and Duke’s postseason pushes to reclassification and G League Ignite questions, it all makes for a rivalry recruitment worth following this spring – or, more likely, as long as it takes. Despite Monday’s turbulence, Jackson told 247Sports he’s now shooting for an April decision.
“I think it will stay the same,” he said.
Chapel Fowler is a recruiting reporter for The Fayetteville Observer and the USA TODAY Network. Reach him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism