GG Jackson making a positive first impression with Gamecocks

·5 min read
Sam Wolfe/Special To The State

It’s the middle of summer practice, and first-year South Carolina men’s basketball coach Lamont Paris is watching his biggest, brightest star miss a jumpshot.

Paris is taken aback by the moment — and not just because G.G. Jackson’s shots tend to be automatic. Seconds after Jackson’s shot clanks off the rim, Paris sees the 17-year-old hometown phenom turn to the teammate who passed him the ball, Meechie Johnson, and apologize.

It was a good pass. A good look. Jackson should’ve made it.

The public eye has been honed in on Jackson for months. By now most Gamecocks fans know the story: Initially named the top recruit in the 2023 class out of Ridge View High School, Jackson decommitted from North Carolina in July, reclassified to the 2022 class and joined the hometown Gamecocks this summer.

But the public hasn’t yet gotten to know Jackson as a person and as a Gamecock.

How GG Jackson landed with USC

In the past couple of weeks, Paris has been pleasantly surprised to learn how little ego Jackson actually has. The talent of the five-star 6-foot-9 forward is undeniable, and it seems likely that Jackson will play just one season for USC before the NBA Draft comes calling. But when he’s with his teammates, he’s just another Gamecock.

Little moments like apologizing for missing a shot in practice — when no apology was necessary — speak volumes.

“He’s worried more about his performance as it pertains to how it affects his teammates than he is for any any other reason,” Paris told The State. “Most guys, if they’re upset about something that they did it’s because, ‘Coach is gonna yell at me’ or because, ‘I’m going to be taken out’ or because, ‘The scouts aren’t going to want to recruit me now.’

“Honestly, I feel like it’s more geared towards his his teammates. It’s refreshing to see just that he’s different that way, and it’s in a good way.”

We may never know all of the inner workings of how and why Jackson decommitted from the Tar Heels and flipped to the Gamecocks — especially in this modern age of recruiting that often includes a financial name, image and likeness component.

Paris said he and his staff heard the same rumors about Jackson decommitting from UNC that everyone else heard earlier in the summer. At first, Paris didn’t put much stock in it. After the Gamecocks fired 10-year head coach Frank Martin in March, it seemed like USC was out of the race. Paris had met with Jackson and his family after he arrived in Columbia but acknowledged then he was “late to the party.”

But the whispers of a decommitment grew louder. Suddenly, friends of friends of friends started reaching out.

“And then the next thing you know — boom — the decommitment happens,” Paris said. “And then it’s just a recruiting process, and you’re trying to rekindle some of the things that you had when you first got here and tried to make up some ground. I’ll say that the staff before us did a good job familiarizing him with with the inner workings of the program, university, all that stuff.

“I think the fact that he is from here, the fact that his mom went (to school) here, the fact that I think there was — deep down inside — there was a good percentage of him wanting to come here, it started to make more and more sense. ... And so I’m excited for him to be able to play in front of his family.”

Jackson’s impact now, in future recruiting

From a pure basketball perspective, Jackson’s surprise addition to the 2022-23 roster is a massive jolt for the Gamecocks. USC is coming off an 18-12 season in which it just missed postseason play, but the entire starting five from that team has moved on. Expect Jackson to serve as the offensive focal point of a brand new team that includes transfers like Johnson (Ohio State), forward Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (Illinois) and Hayden Brown (The Citadel).

But there’s symbolic importance to Jackson’s arrival as well. In a state that has seen many of its top high school basketball players like Ja Morant and Zion Williamson leave for schools in other states, Jackson represents a glowing exception. He’s the highest-rated recruit ever to play for South Carolina — and that means something.

Sitting on the couch in his office at Carolina Coliseum in mid-August, Paris is mindful to talk about G.G. Jackson the person — who he is as a 17-year-old kid — before delving into Jackson the basketball player. He says he’s excited he gets to have a part in Jackson playing for his hometown and in front of his family.

But, of course, there’s also excitement over what Jackson’s star power could bring to the program, especially with Paris heading into Year 1.

“People are watching,” Paris said. “People are taking note that he came here and that he came to play for me. So that can start to generate some real buzz, particularly with local guys, but also even on a national level with some high-level guys, that will start to generate some buzz and open some doors.

“So I’m happy for us as well. It means a lot to us to have him come here and play for us. But it’s a process. He’s 17 years old. And so there’s gonna be a lot of learning that takes place. I think his capacity to learn is really high, though, and that oftentimes dictates the trajectory of a kid like him.”

Given his importance to the program, Jackson’s trajectory and USC’s trajectory could very well be intertwined.