Coming to Duke as part of a star studded recruiting class that ranked No. 1 in the nation according to 247 sports, Frank Jackson was somewhat overlooked. Fellow freshmen Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum sucked up most of the attention as top five overall recruits that were expected to star for the Blue Devils before heading to the NBA. Jackson was also under the radar since he played his high school basketball in Utah and not a traditional hoops hotbed like California.
For much of the year Jackson’s role on the team has been as an energy guy off the bench, someone who injects some electricity into the offense. This has been due to the meteoric rise of Luke Kennard who has emerged as Duke’s best player and the steady play of Matt Jones who is a lock down defender on the perimeter for the Blue Devils.
However, by sheer force of talent and hard work, Jackson has been able to carve out a key place in head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation. The freshman is averaging almost 24 minutes per game and is being trusted with bringing the ball up the floor and initiating the offense. He also gives Duke another elite perimeter defender who can help shutdown opposing teams’ backcourts.
But, Jackson was not satisfied just being a valuable role player. He has taken his game to another level recently and reminded fans why he was a five star recruit in his own right. The freshman has stepped into the void left by an injury that has left star guard Grayson Allen limited. Allen missed the game against Miami and only played 16 minutes against Florida State. Jackson started those past two games in Allen’s place and posted two of his best games of the year.
Duke fans quickly learned that the Alpine, Utah native was extremely explosive and capable of singlehandedly powering the Blue Devils offense. He possesses a unique skill set among the Duke guards. Jackson is built like a freight train, but can ramp up to top speed in an instant. This makes him a massive threat in the pick and roll game where he can explode past slower defenders, slip a pass to a rolling big man or shoot a pull up jumper. He is also the closest thing the Blue Devils have to a true point guard, who is able to consistently organize the offense and intimate sets for other players.
Shooting is the phase of Jackson’s game that has picked up recently. In the past two games, his shooting numbers have increased considerably. In the loss to Miami, the freshman was six for 11 from the field, tallying 16 points to lead the Blue Devils. The Florida State game on Tuesday was a Frank Jackson tour de force. Duke had jumped out to an early lead and the Seminoles were mounting a comeback early in the second half before Jackson took over. He scored 13 points in the span of a little over three minutes to bring the lead to 19 and effectively end the game. The freshman hit three threes including a pull up one over probably lottery pick Jonathan Isaac and had several spectacular drives to the basket including one where he contorted his body to finish through contact. He finished the contest with 22 points shooting over 50% from the field.
Jackson’s rise gives Krzyzewski more lineup options and is a welcome development for a Blue Devil team that came into the year with such high expectations. If Allen remains limited, Jackson will be counted on to step up once again and he has risen to every occasion thus far. If Duke is going to be successful in March, it will be because of their elite backcourt and Jackson will be an integral part of that. He could have the most impact of anyone from this year’s freshman class, an idea that seemed ridiculous at the start of the season.
The future is also blinding for the freshman from Utah. He seems set to follow in the steps of Allen who was a role player his freshman year for the 2015 Blue Devil team that won the national championship and then became an All-American the next season. Jackson has the same sort of untapped potential and looks like he could be a thorn in the side of Duke’s opponents for years to come. He has the talent and work ethic to become the next great Blue Devil guard.