Ian Jackson Arrives at UNC Focused on Winning (2024)

After spending 18 months as a Carolina commitment and seven months as a UNC signee, Ian Jackson is arriving in Chapel Hill.With his arrival comes great expectation.

Sherrell McMillan

It's no surprise Ian Jackson and Hubert Davis vibe.

Jackson, the uber-talented guard/wing from Bronx, N.Y., for some time has had two definitive goals after high school – play college basketball at the highest level and head to the NBA after one season.

Davis, entering his fourth year as head coach at his alma mater, wants to restore Carolina as college basketball's preeminent program and keep everything that's made it unique for thelast century, while recognizing the changes college basketball has undergone.

All their steps thus far have been ordered to reach those objectives. They share a laser focus and love of basketball – ignoring all sideshow distractions and understanding that in all hard work there is success.

Jackson arrives on campusWednesday as UNC's highest-rated incoming freshman since Caleb Love in 2020. With him comes great expectations, and a proof of concept for Davis.

Jackson shocked college basketball fans and media by committing to UNC on Jan. 16, 2023, less than week into the second semester of his junior season. Jackson chose the Tar Heels over offers from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, LSU, Oregon, Pittsburgh, St. John's, UCLA, and UConn.

A one-and-done (OAD) player spurning John Calipari's Kentucky for a, at the time, second-year head coach struggling to rekindle the magic of his first season? Things like that just didn't happen, especially for a UNC program that's only had five OADs since 2010 (Tony Bradley, Coby White, Nassir Little, Cole Anthony, and Day'Ron Sharpe).

But the fit and verve were there.

"The whole UNC staff has built a culture that keeps the energy and passion at a certain level," Jackson told Inside Carolina this spring. "All the guys take pride in that, to keep the energy high even when things aren't going well. It's a culture full of hard-nosed dudes who are ready to get down, fight, and do whatever it takes to win. Guys who say 'it's not about me, it's about us.' I think that's why they're having so much success. I love that Coach Davis lets his players come in and be themselves. I'll come in and do what I do best, and Coach Davis will help me straighten out all the kinks while we're at it."

Though he never publicly waivered, rumors persisted up until the last couple months that Jackson wouldn't end up in Chapel Hill. It's a credit to Davis and his staff that, in the NIL era, they held on to a consensus top 10 player for 18 months. That doesn't happen without real, genuine connection.

"Out of all of the visits we had, guys (at UNC) just showed up as themselves," Jackson's mother, Latisha Simon, said in the weeks after his commitment. "In that moment , I already knew, personally, that this was it. I said to Ian during the visit, 'what are you thinking?' I know how he is, he said 'we're still on the visit, I'm gonna take it in, and when I get back from Arkansas, I'll speak my mind.' I said, 'ok, I'll wait.' But I already knew it was going to be UNC."

Now, Jackson, Belmont transfer Cade Tyson, and fellow five-star freshman Drake Powell, join a Carolinaperimeter returning All-American guard RJ Davis, sophom*ore Elliot Cadeau, and junior Seth Trimble in the backcourt and on the wing. It's the most talented '1' through '3' (and sometimes '4' in Tyson's case) Davis has had as Carolina's head coach.

Making an impact shouldn't be a big deal for Jackson. He averaged 23.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per game for Bronx (N.Y.) Our Savior Lutheran, who doubled as "Jelly Fam" in the Overtime Elite (OTE) high school league.

"Ian brings a tremendous amount of flair to the game from a twitchy athletic perspective,"247Sports national recruiting analyst Brandon Jenkins said this week. "He brings a New York level of confidence when he plays with the ball in his hands. Once he is in rhythm, he is as productive as any player in his class. The inconsistency within his jumper could stop him from maximizing his potential, but he is loaded with confidence, has a scorer's mentality, and has unteachable explosion and athletic gifts."

Aside from his physical gifts, Jackson's competitive nature has been on display throughout his high school career.

"He has that alpha mentality," 247Sports national recruiting director Adam Finkelstein said on a recent episode of Inside Carolina's Coast to Coast show. "I always thought he was a gamer. In the biggest environments he was going to bring, whether that's USA Basketball (or) EYBL (or) 3SSB… the bigger the setting, the bigger competitive output you were going to get from him."

Ian Jackson Arrives at UNC Focused on Winning (2)

WhatJackson learned at OTE, and has been developing since committing to Carolina, is that doing it for a championship or rivalry game is great. But being an elite competitor at practice or against a team you're more talented than or when the stakes feel low, that's where true progress in the margins is made.

"My mentality going into every game has changed," Jackson told Inside Carolina this spring. "It's what took me over the hump this year. I won't say in the past I wasn't focused going into games, but maybe I wasn't totally focused on figuring out any way to impact winning. In my mind, that's all that matters - how much can I impact winning and be a factor in my team getting the 'W?' I want to be a winner, whether it's defense, diving on the floor, even little things like that. That's just me growing up and getting more mature and understanding what the game is about and what it really takes. Everybody wants a winner, somebody who will put it all out on the floor every night."

Jackson hopes to wear the No. 11 jersey at UNC this season, onehe's grown accustomed to in AAU and high school basketball. He'll also get to be something he's always been - agame-changer.

"I think he's best as a wing right now," said Finkelstein. "I think he has to grow into the guard stuff. I think his shot has improved exponentially. One of the things I would like to see him do more of is put more pressure on the rim in the halfcourt. Playing with somebody like Elliot (Cadeau), he's (Cadeau) got the chance to simplify the game for him (Jackson). I think being around a lot of shooting and a lot of spacing could open up driving lanes. He's always been stronger than he looks, more physical than he looks... Compete, defend, attack, that's who he is."

Ian Jackson Arrives at UNC Focused on Winning (2024)
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