Justin Jackson flirted with entering the NBA Draft a year ago, but instead opted to return to North Carolina for his junior season.
The move paid off in a major way as Jackson led the Tar Heels to the NCAA championship and then landed with the Sacramento Kings with the No. 15 pick of the NBA Draft at Barclays Center on Thursday night.
“It’s the perfect story,” Jackson told ESPN. “I know I wasn’t ready last year, and I went back and put in a ton of work. My teammates and everybody helped us get a national championship so I can’t thank everybody enough. I’m just happy to be here.”
The 6-8 Jackson is going from a team that won an NCAA championship to a perennial cellar-dwellar that finished 32-50 last season.
“Man, that’s a great challenge to have,” he said. “For me I’ve always loved whenever somebody says you can’t necessarily do something or whatever. So for me I’m going to go in there, like I said before, work extremely hard. That’s the whole mindset. We’re going to try to change things and be extremely competitive and try to win as many games as we can. So we’ll see how everything falls.”
The Portland Trail Blazers initially owned the No. 15 pick but traded it and the No. 20 pick to the Kings for No. 10. Portland then chose Gonzaga freshman center Zach Collins at 10, while the Kings also added De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky at No. 5 and Duke’s Harry Giles at No. 20.
The Kings have now added a North Carolina kid (Jackson), a Duke kid (Giles) and a Kentucky kid (Fox), which should provide some winning DNA.
“Yeah, I feel like it’s a great situation overall,” Jackson said. “I mean, it’s a good organization. I got to know them a little bit whenever I went out there for a workout, and it seemed like it’s a group of guys that is going towards trying to be successful and guys that come in and work every single day. Hopefully I can step right in and continue that, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Jackson, who averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists en route to ACC Player of the Year honors, said he’s looking forward to help changing the culture in Sacramento alongside Fox.
“Yeah, it’s going to be good to at least have kind of a familiar face out there,” he said. “Sacramento is a long ways away, so to have somebody that I’ve been around and I know really well, that’ll be great.”