After a season where the word “tanking” was used more often than the word “playoffs,” fans of the Memphis Grizzlies are hopeful offseason moves the team has made can put the NBA franchise back in the conversation for playing beyond the end of the regular season.
A player expected to have an impact on that return to the playoff mix for the Grizzlies is Jaren Jackson Jr., the team’s first-round draft pick and the overall number four selection in the NBA draft overall.
The former Michigan State star has been active working out and playing summer league basketball as he prepares for his initial action in the professional basketball ranks.
Jackson is also acclimating himself to the fans of his new team and Thursday afternoon met some of his most youthful DeSoto County admirers. He made an appearance at the Jr. Grizzlies Youth Basketball Camp that was held this week at Longview Heights Baptist Church in Olive Branch.
On his entrance into the church gymnasium, youngsters and parents greeted Jackson with cheers and applause as he stood in front of the crowd. He took questions from some of the campers, showed some ball handling skills and had the kids join in.
He also showed his outside shooting skills, knocking down two straight shots from half court before missing on the third try.
The campers then gathered with instructors and Jackson for a group photo, followed by an autograph session with the newest member of the Grizzlies.
Each youngster got a photo of Jackson that he signed for them during the Olive Branch session.
Jackson said he was looking forward to bringing good energy to the court for the Grizzlies’ fans of the Mid-South, including DeSoto County.
“Everybody is very supporting of one another and everybody wants to see other people succeed around here,” Jackson said. “I came to talk to some kids and really just have fun.”
Jackson said he can sense that fans are happy that he is in Memphis.
“They’ve embraced me like I’m one of their own,” said Jackson. “It’s almost like I played there last year. We have great guys coming back and it’s going to be a big time run we’ll try to put on.”
The Plainfield, New Jersey native played one season for the Spartans of the Big 10 Conference under coach Tom Izzo, where the 6-foot-11 power forward quickly drew attention of NBA teams for his foot speed as a big man, his defensive skills and shot blocking ability.
Jackson also comes from an NBA pedigree, as father Jaren Jackson played 10 years in the NBA.
The elder Jackson was a coach in the NBA D League with Fort Wayne, St. John and Ottawa after a playing career that saw him playing in New Jersey, Golden State, the Clippers, Portland, Philadelphia, Houston and Washington, along with stints in the D League.
One of the first things the younger Jackson did after being drafted was be part of the Grizzlies’ summer league team, playing in the Utah summer league.
“I definitely think that was a good stepping stone for the season,” Jackson said of the experience. “I want to keep working on my motor (speed), getting lower because to get a good base you have to get lower, quicker moves, working on that type of thing.”
Jackson could become an outside offensive threat for Memphis along with his defensive skills. He shot 39.6 percent from the three-point line for Michigan State last season, where he averaged 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and three blocks a game.
Still a teenager, Jackson is still aware that basketball is no longer a game for fun or to get an education. Basketball for him is now a job and a business. He has to be the one taking the initiative to get the work done and get better.
“If you want to work out, it’s not the coach calling you to work out, it’s you calling him,” Jackson explained.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.