“I always challenge myself,” Jackson said. “I want to be the first one in and the last one out.”
With Keefe, Jackson has undergone rigorous sessions of shooting and conditioning, as well as simulating a transition game and the team's sets on offense. During games, to most of which he's had a front-row seat, Jackson said he challenged himself mentally. He thought about things like the clock situation and point differential, who's hot and who's not and timeouts and fouls.
The preparation paid off in Sunday's 108-96 win against the Spurs, as Jackson played 23 minutes and blended in without missing a beat.
“He played well tonight,” said Nick Collison. “The problem with this season is we don't get a lot of practice, so he's going to have to pick up a lot of things. But tonight was a good start.”
Jackson checked in for the first time with 2:40 remaining in the first quarter. When guard Daequan Cook and center Nazr Mohammed entered one minute later, putting the 5-man B Team on the floor, the second string peeled off a 13-4 run to take a 33-22 lead. By no means was Jackson the catalyst. But he scored two points and didn't mess up.
Throughout the rest of the contest, Jackson played under control and took what the defense gave him. When there was a driving lane, he attacked. When the ball swung to him, he squared up and shot with confidence. Defensively, he stuck to his man like glue and showed potential for being more of a pest than Maynor was.
“He's a smart kid, and he's really receptive to what the coaches are teaching him,” Collison said. “But there are going to be some bumps. Tonight was a great game for us. But there will be other games when it doesn't go as well, I'm sure.”
Jackson might be too naïve to realize that harsh reality. But the rookie's confidence comes from his ability to always fall back on his work ethic and enthusiasm for preparation.
“That's how you become better each and every day,” Jackson said. “So that's what I'm going to do from this day on.”