After playing one season at Duke University, Frank Jackson experienced one of the biggest highlights of any basketball player’s career June 22, when he was selected 31st overall in the NBA draft, the initial pick of Round 2. Unfortunately for the 19-year-old combo guard, a stress fracture in his right foot and subsequent surgery meant that he wasn’t able to play for New Orleans during NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Instead, the Utah native will make his professional debut in the fall, after rehabbing from the surgery.
Pelicans.com caught up with Jackson following New Orleans’ final summer game vs. Denver, to get his thoughts on the experience and his perspective on preparing to launch his NBA career.
Pelicans.com: How difficult was it for you to attend summer league and be around the team every day, but not be able to get on the court and play?
Jackson: It was tough, because I definitely want to go out there and compete, show everyone what I can do and just get acclimated to playing the NBA style and pace. But I think from sitting on the bench and listening at practice, I took a lot out of this week. Definitely watching the point guards – it was cool to watch Quinn (Cook) this week, seeing how to lead a team and the reads you need to make, shots you have to take. A lot of basketball is mental, so you have to take that into account.
Pelicans.com: Not to dwell on this too much, because it’s out of anyone’s control, but it has to be tough to be drafted and you want to do things like put on an NBA uniform for the first time, but you have to wait.
Jackson: Yes, because playing basketball is what I really want to do, and what’s tough is I’ve never really had an injury like this before. It’s one of the first times I’ve really sat out for a long period of time. But I know I have to be patient, let this completely heal, so that when I come back, I’m 100 percent.
Pelicans.com: Are there some things you have to actually experience for yourself to learn? For example, a lot of rookies talk about how one big adjustment to the NBA is the difference in spacing due to the deeper three-point line, which affects timing and the distance guards must dribble to get to the rim.
Jackson: I think it’s some of both, that you can learn by watching, but you also have to do it. Obviously you’re going to get much more out of it if you’re actually playing, but at the same time, I’m in all of the meetings and practices, watch film with the guys, so I think I still learned as much as they did. But I’ll definitely learn more in the fall and at training camp.
Pelicans.com: What’s your general timetable for your projected return to the court?
Jackson: I’ve been doing rehab for the past two weeks now. I want to say at the beginning of September, I’m going to do some live stuff on the court. So it’s coming up pretty soon.
Pelicans.com: How do you spend the rest of your offseason? Do you go back home to Utah?
Jackson: Yes. I’ll go back home and rehab for a little bit, but then I’ll be in New Orleans on Aug. 1 and start working out there. I’m trying to get in super early, to get some extra work in and take off from there.
Pelicans.com: Going into your rookie season, how do you view what position you’ll play? Do you expect to play at both guard spots?
Jackson: I think I can do both. I’m a combo guard. I can score the ball really well, and get others involved. But really whatever the team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. If they need me to come in and knock down a shot, or come in and defend, I’m a guy who can defend multiple positions. So whatever the team needs.
Pelicans.com: Although you didn’t get to play in summer league, do you have a feel for what you want to work on the most to be prepared to play either spot?
Jackson: A little bit and here, but as I get with the coaches, they’ll pinpoint things in my game as we watch film. For right now, I’m just trying to get my foot right.
Pelicans.com: Heading into your first pro season, who are some of the older players you lean on or seek advice from, to help you adjust to the NBA? Are there players from Duke, including perhaps Pelicans teammate Quinn Cook, who are telling you what to expect?
Jackson: Yes, I’ve gotten to know Quinn in the last year. He’s always been real nice to me and it’s cool to have that Duke connection. I also talked to Justise (Winslow) a little bit before the draft, Jabari (Parker). Coach K has been great, as well as all of his staff. I’ve got a lot of people looking out for me. Whenever I need a helping hand, I know where to go.