Even though his schedule makes it difficult now, yes, former North Carolina star Justin Jackson still makes time to watch his Tar Heels.
Jackson, who was ACC Player of the Year during UNC’s most recent national championship season in 2017, was in Charlotte Thursday as his Sacramento Kings played the Hornets. And while Jackson’s squad lost 114-95, he still showed the shooting touch that made him well-known as a college star in North Carolina.
Jackson is averaging 7.3 points in 21.8 minutes per game off the bench for the Kings, who also feature former Duke stars Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles. He spoke to the Observer before Thursday’s game about his growth in his second NBA season, as well as to offer some thoughts on the current Tar Heels and to explain a funny in-game matchup he recently had with former Davidson star Steph Curry.
The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity:
Q. What has been the biggest change for you from your rookie season to this year?
A. Just getting a little more comfortable, a little more confident within whatever role I’m in, and then just kind of going out there and playing. I think being more comfortable allows me to just play my game, you know? Knowing that guys want me to do certain things, to play the way I know how to play. It helps a lot to just be able to go out there and hoop.
Q. You scored a career-high 28 points against the Golden State Warriors about two weeks ago. What was that game like, and when was the last time you felt that good?
A. Dude, it was good. Last time? It’s been a while.
I think I had 22 against Milwaukee earlier this year, but it still didn’t feel like that. The way that (Warriors) game was anyways, how many 3’s were going up, how we were going up and down so much, it felt really good. So that was definitely a confidence booster — now it’s just about keeping that same confidence.
Q. Did you realize mid-game the sort of night you were having, or did it take until after the game to really process it?
A. I didn’t really recognize it until... I think I hit a 3 early in the second half, and we had a timeout, and I looked up and I had 15. So I was like, ‘Dang!’ (laughs) But yeah, I didn’t really pay too much attention to it until it got further along.
Q. One last thing from that Warriors game: At one point, you got matched up on Steph Curry defensively, and he sort of made you fall down before he buried a 3. But then after the game, you sent off a tweet to him that played it off. What’s your relationship like with him, and can you explain what exactly went down?
A. No (I don’t know him). For me, it was just trying to make fun of it. You know what I mean? If I can make fun of it, anyone can make fun of it. It was just kind of a funny joke.
It’s funny, I wasn’t even that mad about it! (laughs) The whole situation, (my wife) Brooke was probably more like, ‘Why’d he have to hit the shot, man?’ Going on social media and stuff after, she’s like, ‘It’s everywhere!’ It was just trying to make fun of the whole situation.
Q. How is life in Sacramento? You’ve been married over a year now (to former Florida women’s basketball player Brooke Copeland) and last we spoke, you mentioned you two had gotten a puppy?
A. Yeah, we’ve got two now! So for one, Brooke is doing really well. The two puppies are off at training right now, so they’re doing really well. Life out there is really good, man.
Q. Do you still get much of a chance to watch UNC play, especially being based on the West Coast?
A. It seems like this year the games have kind of fallen on the same times we play, but the games where they’re at noon — unfortunately I watched the Louisville game (an 83-62 Louisville victory in Chapel Hill) — so games like that, or on our off days, I’m definitely on the couch watching. It’s been cool to kind of watch and see that team.
Obviously, they’re trying to work through things and stuff like that, but it’s been cool to watch them and hopefully see them turn it around and make a big push.
Q. Who on that team has stood out the most to you? Or has anyone really surprised you?
A. Coby (White) is playing really well. Being a freshman, I didn’t necessarily expect that (of him), but he’s doing well.
I think guys have done well, they’re just not as cohesive as I think they will be later on down the road. You know, it’s a lot of individuals out there playing basketball right now — which they’re very good individuals — but especially in ACC play, it’s going to be hard to win games like that.
Once they come together and build that chemistry more and more, I think they’ll be all right.
Q. What do you think about Cam Johnson’s play? He seems to sort of be filling a similar role to what you filled on UNC’s most recent title team in 2017.
A. I love Cam’s game. I mean, I think he’s been shooting the ball extremely well this year and has given them kind of that shooter, that scorer to play that wing spot and open up things for other guys. I’ve been really impressed with how he’s been playing.
Q. What do you see as the ceiling for them? Another Final Four?
A. Honestly, I think they can make a big push, man. I don’t necessarily know how far, but I think they can make a big push. It’s just a matter of them really coming together and really just playing for each other. That’s the biggest thing.
Once they do that, they’ve definitely got enough talent and they’ve got scorers and stuff like that, so they should be able to make a run.
Q. Last thing: What’s new with you away from the basketball court? What else is going on in your life?
A. We’re bringing out a non-profit to Sacramento. It’s called GiGi’s Playhouse (a Down syndrome acceptance and achievement center) — there’s actually one in Raleigh. So, honestly, support is always needed in that sort of thing. Sacramento is way over there, but just whatever prayers or type of support we can get, we love that.