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Friday / February 24.

Kansas Freshmen Josh Jackson Drawing Andrew Wiggins Comparisons, Praise From NBA Scouts

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NEW YORK — It’s always tough comparing one basketball player to another, but Kansas freshman Josh Jackson will inevitably get juxtaposed to Andrew Wiggins.

Both are 6-foot-8 wings.

Both signed on to play for Kansas coach Bill Self.

And Jackson is expected to be a one-and-done in Lawrence just as Wiggins was.

“It’s a fair comparison,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas told me before Jackson went for 15 points before fouling out of Kansas’ epic 77-75 win over No. 1 Duke on Tuesday in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. “[Jackson] is more skilled with the ball and he’s a better passer. And he’s got a better feel for the game. Wiggins was a better shooter, although Josh is a pretty decent shooter. He’s better than I thought. He’s got a little hitch as he gets it up into his shooting pocket. But once it gets here it’s good and he shoots a good ball. So he’s gonna be fine.

“He’s the real thing, he’s gonna be good.”

Jackson’s performance wasn’t quite the 22-point, 8-rebound showing that Wiggins had three years ago when he led Kansas to a 94-83 victory over Duke in the Champions Classic in Chicago, but he showed flashes of dominance.

Wiggins, a native of Toronto, was the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, and DraftExpress.com currently has Jackson projected as the No. 4 pick in 2017.

More than 100 NBA personnel were on hand at the Champions Classic to get an early gauge on guys like Jackson and the other star players for Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State.

“Both [Jackson and Wiggins] are great athletes and special talents built for the game,” one NBA scout said. “Both have good offensive skillsets at a relatively early age. They are good guys with an unlimited future.”

“Jackson will get better as the year continues,” said a second scout. “He’s still a top-5 pick regardless of his inconsistent shooting.”

Before fouling out, Jackson dominated for part of the game and helped Kansas take a seven-point lead thanks to a floater, a lefty finish off the window and a three-pointer.

But he  let his emotions get the better of him and fouled out with 5:08 remaining. After playing 27 minutes in Kansas’ overtime loss to Indiana on Friday in Honolulu, Jackson was on the floor for just 18 minutes against Duke.

“I think he played with more freedom tonight than he has been,” Self told Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News. “He’s been probably a little timid, not to screw up. He got on a little bit of a roll. There’s no telling how good he could be if he could just control his emotions a little. He’s got to get where he does that better.

“This was an unfair deal for him this week, in my opinion, to have the two games being Indiana and Duke on this stage when the expectations are so high for him. It would have been nice if we could have played two buy games first, for us to be comfortable. I think in some ways, he handled it well, and in some ways he didn’t handle it well. He is one competitive dude, though.”

Jackson was understandably hyped to play at the Garden, on national TV, against the No. 1 team in the nation.

Perhaps too hyped.

“I was just really excited to play today,” he told Sporting News. “I’ve been kind of looking forward to being able to play in games like this my whole life. When I get silly fouls like that and it takes me out of the game, it kind of frustrated me.

“I’ve just got to move my feet and keep my hands off of guys and stop trying to make silly fouls as much.”

Still, as Jackson prepares to play just the third game of his young college career on Friday against Siena, he has plenty of time to get his emotions in check, his shooting on track and the Wiggins comparisons to flourish.

“If you can play, you can play and Josh Jackson can play,” Bilas said. “He can put the ball on the floor and attack more and create more, he’s capable of doing that.

“Josh is a really good player and he’s one entire game into his career in college and he’s got a lot of maturing to do, and the NBA scouts know that. They know he’s got all the tools. They’re watching everything but there’s no make or break game. If he plays great it doesn’t mean he’s gonna be the 1 pick and if he plays poorly it doesn’t mean less than that so there’s more that goes into it.”

Photo: USA Today Sports

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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.