COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Justin Jackson's freshman season was filled with a myriad of individual and team milestones.
So when asked if there was a signature moment he could look back upon that he was most proud of, the 21 year-old native of Toronto leaned back in his chair at the XFINITY Center during a brief respite from a team photoshoot and smiled easily recalling the specific moment.
"We were in Brooklyn and just won the Barclays Classic," Jackson said. "I was selected to the all-tournament team and received a trophy. My parents (David and Paulette), little sister (Justina) and uncle (Kevin Linton) watched me play - and they had not seen me play in person for some time. My mom was so happy and proud of me when I saw her after the game. She hugged me and took my trophy. When she returned back to work (in the human resource department at Scotiabank in Toronto) that Monday, she proudly placed that trophy right on her office desk."
When you visit with Jackson and the topic is broached about his parents and two sisters, he flashes a wide-eyed grin and explains that his family is his inspiration.
"Family" is the primary reason Jackson elected to sign with the University of Maryland on May 28, 2016.
"It just felt right," Jackson explained. "It felt like one big family - and Maryland has become my second family."
It’s that "second family" which has helped Jackson make a seamless transition to College Park – some 500 miles away from his hometown of Toronto.
"Last year in my freshman season everything was new,” Jackson said. "It was the first time that many of us were playing together. I've now had a full season with 'my brothers' and we were able to go through the good times and bad times and learn for those past experiences."
Many of those “good times” included noteworthy performances by Jackson, who made an immediate impact in College Park in his freshman campaign. He had 17 points and a team-high seven rebounds in a dramatic comeback win over rival Georgetown in just his third collegiate game. Additionally, Jackson became the first freshman since 2010 to record a double-double in consecutive games in late January (at Ohio State and at Minnesota) en route to being named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week.
For Jackson, however, those performances are all in the past. His even-keel personality will not allow him to relish in those moments. During the past summer, Jackson's detailed regiment included a 90-minute shooting session each morning with teammates Jared Nickens, Kevin Huerter and basketball manager Mike Williams.
After his on-court drills, he immediately tended to his three summer classes, while keeping a close eye on soon declaring a major in criminology. His afternoon began with a weightlifting session under the direction of Kyle Tarp, the team’s strength and conditioning guru and concluded with a late afternoon session on the basketball court with teammates and managers focusing on additional individual drills.
Jackson openly admits his confidence has grown significantly this offseason. This past spring, Jackson was selected to participate in the 2017 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. He said the best part of the overall experience was having the opportunity to go through the process with his former teammate and good friend Melo Trimble.
“I think having Melo there with me in Chicago was great,” Jackson shared. “I could talk with him about the day and the process. He understood what I was going through because he had been a part of the combine the year before. He really helped me through it.”
Jackson said he gained more confidence throughout the process and by day two of the combine felt he was playing very aggressive.
As he approaches his much-anticipated sophomore season, Jackson, who finished second on the team in points per game (10.5), first in rebounding (7.6) and connected on nearly 44 percent of both his field goal and three-point attempts, is excited to build upon an inaugural season in which he played an integral role in leading Maryland to its best start in school history (20-2) as well as advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
“We have a great group,” Jackson explained. “We have upperclassman who are great leaders, younger players who received some great experience and talented new players who can contribute as well. It is really exciting because everyone is ready to embrace their role.”
In the meantime, Jackson will spend the next few weeks unwinding at home with his family in Canada before returning to College Park at the end of the month.
He is just three months shy of the Terps' regular season opener, which hopefully means plenty more victory hugs from his mom and trophies for her office desk.