Two weeks before announcing Monday that he would play next season for Kansas, five-star forward Josh Jackson acknowledged all the love coming from the Arizona Wildcats.
“They made me feel like I’m a priority, like they really want me,” Jackson told the Star before the McDonald’s All-American Game. “That it’s important to them that I end up at their school.”
So there’s little doubt then that the Wildcats wouldn’t have minded shuffling some things around to accommodate Jackson, who is rated the No. 1 recruit in 2016 by 24/7Sports and Rivals. Like maybe moving the starting small forward, Allonzo Trier, to shooting guard. Or having small forward Ray Smith come off his knee injuries to move to power forward on occasion. Also, making their many scoring guards share the ball, too.
But at Kansas, Jackson will step right in to a nearly guaranteed starting and prominent role now that Jayhawks small forward Wayne Selden Jr. declared for the NBA after three seasons in college.
While Jackson was not available for comment other than his announcement on Twitter — which featured a photoshopped picture of him in a Kansas jersey with a hashtag that referred to “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” — he also appeared impressed after visiting Kansas in January.
In comments posted to his travel-ball club’s Twitter site, Jackson said he loved the atmosphere at Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse and that “they have the best fans and the loudest gym I’ve ever been in.”
Then there’s Kansas coach Bill Self. Before playing in last Saturday’s Hoop Summit game, Jackson told USA Today that Self would have the best chance of becoming president of the three final coaches he was considering playing for.
“He’s a winner,” Jackson said. “He’s won 12 straight Big 12 titles, and we’ve got the best country in the world, so we’d need a winner.”
But at the same time, Jackson has long professed a close relationship with UA coach Sean Miller, for whom Jackson played on USA Basketball’s U19 team last summer.
USA Today asked Jackson last week which coach, of the three finalists he was talking with, he would save on a lifeboat in the ocean if he could save only one.
Jackson said Miller would be pulled in.
“Sean’s my guy and, out of the three coaches, I’ve probably got the best relationship with him,” Jackson told USA Today. “I can’t really say I have as close a relationship with the other two coaches, but I’m pretty sure they’re great people. For me, having this close relationship with Sean Miller; he would have to be the one to get saved.”
Jackson also made two trips to Tucson in a six-month span while considering the Wildcats.
He first visited UA unofficially last June before he and Miller went to camp with USA Basketball in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and returned for an official visit in December, taking in the Wildcats’ 82-70 win over UNLV.
Jackson kept up with Miller afterward, saying the two even laughed about Miller’s sweat-soaked shirt in the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament loss to Wichita State.
“Coach Miller is a really a great guy,” Jackson told the Star. “He and I have a pretty good relationship. I’ve had the chance to play for him, and just having that experience was really great.”
Without Jackson, the Wildcats still have at least three scholarship openings for next season, and four if Elliott Pitts’ departure from the team proves permanent.
Arizona is still pursuing five-star guard Terrance Ferguson of Dallas, another player on USA’s U19 team last summer, while they have also expressed interest in four-star power forward Taurean Thompson, as well as transfers Kory Holden of Delaware and Dylan Osetkowski of Tulane.
Miller said last week that he’s aiming for six or seven players total in the class of 2016.
So far, the Wildcats have three freshmen-to-be lined up in forward Lauri Markkanen of Finland, guard Kobi Simmons of Georgia and wing Rawle Alkins of New York.
The spring signing period begins Wednesday.