Is Elmarko Jackson the X-factor Kansas needs to cut down the nets in 2024? | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / July 14.
  • Is Elmarko Jackson the X-factor Kansas needs to cut down the nets in 2024?

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    By SAM LANCE

    Kansas freshman guard Elmarko Jackson has only been playing competitive basketball for about four years, but you wouldn’t know it watching him play. The former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American has already turned several heads inside the KU program — and the scary thing is — he still has much to learn.

    For starters, Jackson grew up playing lacrosse, not basketball. Hoops didn’t come into the fold until Jackson’s freshman year of high school, where he played his first year of organized basketball for the St. Augustine Prep (NJ) junior varsity team. 

    The talented guard picked up the game fast and decided to take his talents elsewhere. Jackson transferred to play at the Academy of the New Church (PA), and he starred there for two seasons. The guard then transferred again and wrapped up his prep career playing for South Kent High School (CT), where he averaged 19.0 points and 6.0 assists per game as a senior.

    “Elmarko grew tremendously in several areas while he was on the inside,” South Kent coach Raphael Chillious told ZAGSBLOG.com. “One of the biggest things was he learned how to play through other players when it wasn’t his night. That’s a big adjustment for high level players and very necessary before they go on to play big time college basketball.”

    Well — if one thing is clear from Kansas basketball media day — Jackson will be playing a lot of minutes. And with the Jayhawks vigorous schedule, this means he’ll be playing a lot of ‘big time’ basketball.

    “He’s going to be a huge piece for us,” KU senior guard Kevin McCullar said. “Coming in as a freshman, it’s a big load to come in and play right away a lot of minutes. But we’re going to need him to do that for us.“

    After losing guard Arterio Morris following an alleged on-campus rape, Jackson’s role becomes even more important for the Jayhawks. Jackson is the only other primary ball handler on the team, joining national championship point guard Dajuan Harris in the backcourt.

    Perhaps that factor — along with the pure talent oozing out of Jackson — is why Self has deemed the guard as the Jayhawks’ X-factor.

    “If you’re going to have a crystal ball to say who needs to play the best to give us a chance to max out, I’d say Elmarko would be at the top of that list,” Self said.

    “He’s our best athlete,” Self continued. “So he can put pressure on people athletically whereas a lot of other players can’t. He’s got a unique gear that he can get to quicker than anybody else. And he should be a good defender in time. He’s strong and he’s tough.”

    Arguably the Jayhawks best athlete on the team — and another former lacrosse player in junior forward KJ Adams — praised the freshman’s athletic ability as well.

    “He’s a freak of nature,” Adams said. “He’s the fastest guy I’ve ever had to guard. Fastest freshman with the most potential. So he’s going to be really good. I think he’s going to open some eyes and definitely go past expectations that he has.”

    Back during Jackson’s AAU days, his athleticism is what set him apart from other prospects, and it’s why he had an unprecedented rise in the rankings. In early July of 2022, Jackson ranked in the 80s of the 247Sports Composite, but after stacking up several stellar performances throughout the summer, he quickly became one of the most touted prospects in America.

    KU freshman guard Jamari McDowell played against Jackson that summer several times and saw his meteoric rise first hand. In fact, McDowell watched Jackson score 26 points to knock his Houston Defenders in the quarterfinals of the UAA Finals.

    “In AAU, Elmarko was a problem for sure,” McDowell said. “But he’s gotten even more athletic. He seems quicker with the ball. He makes better decisions for sure. He can shoot it as well. Some people underestimate that, but he can shoot it. So he’s been on the come up for sure since AAU.”

    Jackson is likely slated to be a starter or the first guard off the bench in year one for Self. And as many players and coaches have stated, the Jayhawks will need him to produce.

    “He can take us a long way,” graduate transfer center Parker Braun said. “You don’t want to put a lot of pressure on a 17 year old kid, but he’s really — I think if anyone could do it it would be him.” 

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