How Justin Jackson Improved Over His Freshman Season


Justin Jackson was a top ten recruit out of Texas who could shoot the ball and had the potential to be a very talented wing in college and the NBA. He signed with UNC early in the 2013 season before coming part of the 2014-15 Tar Heels team that went on to win 26 games before falling short in the Sweet 16 to a Wisconsin team that eventually lost in the Championship game to Duke. However, despite starting all 38 games of the season, Justin Jackson was not the immediate impact player that most Carolina fans hoped he might have been to start the season, but he continued to improved and by the end was easily one of UNC’s top three players and a major reason why the Tar Heels are considered by most to be a legitimate contender to cut down the nets in 2016.

North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels /

North Carolina Tar Heels

After having looked through the stats, Jackson slowly improved through the season and had his breakout after a horrible showing in the Duke game on Wednesday February 18th, 2015. That game, which was held at Cameron Indoor Stadium, was easily Jackson’s worse game of the season. He had two points on 1-8 shooting, failing to make a three or shoot a free throw, all while playing a season low 17 minutes. He looked lost most of the game and was clearly affected by not only the atmosphere but the stage on which he was playing. Carolina lost that game by two points in overtime, their fourth loss in 5 games. Before this game Jackson was already showing progress. His points, minutes, rebounds, assists, and blocks all increased from the first third of the season to the second third and it appeared as though the young man was finally figuring things out. His shooting percentage also increased during this time as he was making a similar number of shots but taking fewer, showing patience in waiting for higher percentage shots and getting shots in areas he felt comfortable taking them. It is difficult to make shots in any collegiate system, and Coach Roy’s is one of the toughest, but the improvement he showed was exactly what you wanted from a young freshman scorer.

Mar 13, 2015; Greensboro, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard/forward Justin Jackson (44) reacts in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Cavaliers 71-67 in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Then the Duke game happened and people were disappointed that Jackson had failed to step up in a game of such magnitude, particularly one where an average performance might have led to a signature UNC win. Jackson would not have been the first freshman to struggle in his first Duke game (I mean they can’t all be Tyler Hansbrough’s), nor would it have been unheralded if he had regressed some afterwards, but what originally looked like a stumbling block, ended up being a turning point for the young freshman from the Lone Star State. After that game Jackson’s minutes continued to increase, showing that for whatever faults the Tar Heel faithful may have had of Jackson, Coach Roy did not share those same concerns. His points per game jumped by more than 3 points as he scored double figures in 11 out of his last 12 games, having only scored in double figures in 11 of his previous 26 games. He was taking 2 more shots a game and making 1.5 shots more as his field goal percentage increased. As his confidence grew so did his range as he more than doubled his three-point percentage, taking more three pointers which in turn took some of the burden off of his teammate Marcus Paige. During this span Carolina went 8-4, beating some very good teams and only losing by double digits once (something that happened 3 times before then) to NC State (a game I am still not sure what completely happened). The only area that he actually got worse in was free throw shooting, though that probably had more to do with him finding his range and going to the basket left, so maybe not a real concern, but something that should still be kept an eye on.

All in all the future looks bright for Justin Jackson and if he continues to improve his range, get to the line a little more often, and add some weight to that lanky frame, the sky is the limits for a young player on a very talented team.  Though this team in the end will only going as far as Marcus Paige can carry them, the improvement of other players, like Justin Jackson, around him will make it even easier for this team to reach their ultimate goal and add another banner to the Dean Dome next spring.