HIGHLAND — Lone Peak's Frank Jackson has shared the court with the nation's best throughout his four-year prep career, invariably proving he belongs every time. Whether on a national stage playing against the nation's top recruits as a senior or as a young 14-year old freshman going against what most consider the best prep basketball team the state of Utah has ever produced, Jackson has risen to the occasion.
Jackson is now a highly-accomplished, 6-foot-4 stud who shows no fear in taking on anyone given his extraordinary athletic abilities. But as a 14-year-old, then playing for Lehi, Jackson admits to being scared out of his mind to match up against Lone Peak.
"I was terrified and I don't mind saying it," Jackson recalls of his mindset leading up to what turned out to be his coming-out party back on Feb. 15, 2013.
The Knights entered the game undefeated and recognized widely as the top prep team in the entire country. Leading Lone Peak were standouts such as Nick Emery and TJ Haws, both of whom would go on to be named as the Deseret News' Mr. Basketball, along with top recruit Eric Mika.
Although nervous going into the matchup, Jackson left it much like he leaves most everything else — showing he belongs with the very best.
The then 6-foot freshman went toe-to-toe with Emery, scoring 30 points, the most points scored against the Knights that season.
"I was a game I'll never forget," Jackson recalled. "Lone Peak had that swagger, being the nation's best, but I decided to just give it everything I had, hit a few shots early to get going and it was just crazy how it worked out. It gave me a lot of confidence."
Jackson's efforts against Lone Peak that year, among other standout performances, were soon validated by his first collegiate offer, which happened to be from BYU, the same program Emery, Haws and Mika would eventually sign with. Jackson quickly committed to sign with Cougars before deciding to reopen his recruitment shortly after his sophomore season.
That sophomore season was spent playing for Lone Peak, where he won a 5A state championship while playing alongside Haws.
"That was a big thing for me to learn from a guy like TJ and to watch how he prepares himself," Jackson said. "He's the best player I've ever played with and I'm glad we won. I learned how to win from TJ and by learning from Coach (Quincy) Lewis."
Jackson played a complementary role to Haws that year, before being inundated by the type of national recruiting attention few Utah prep athletes ever receive.
With every national camp and combine attended, during the summer of 2014, calls would pile up from top college coaches with those same coaches stuffing the mailbox with recruiting letters.
Of all the overtures received during that time, one in particular captured Jackson's attention.
"I remember when Coach (Mike) Krzyzewski called me up and having a really hard time believing that it was real — that I was actually talking to the guy," Jackson recalled of his first conversation with Duke's legendary basketball coach. "I think that's when it really started to get crazy for me with recruiting and just knowing Coach K wanted me to play for him — it was unreal."
Other schools came after Jackson hard, including Arizona and UCLA, and top academic programs such as Stanford.
"Every camp I'd go to I'd see my ranking go up and would get more calls," Jackson said. "I mean, I never dreamed I'd get the type of attention I was getting and I knew from attending all those camps that I could play with the best. I was still committed to BYU, but I knew I'd have to make a tough decision on that."
Upon seeing his recruitment explode, and only after a lot of deliberation, Jackson decommitted from BYU, a decision he defines as "one of the toughest things I've ever had to do." Despite leaving his Cougar commitment, Jackson still holds a lot of respect for BYU coach Dave Rose and the program.
Jackson then entered his junior season knowing he'd have to pick up a lot of the scoring slack left by Haws, a role he soon proved well-suited for. That season he averaged 26.8 points per game, which tied him for first in the state, along with Davis' Jesse Wade, who was named Mr. Basketball for that season.
"It was a challenge for me that year, but I loved it," Jackson said. "I became a better scorer and it was a great experience. It was tough not winning it all that year for sure, but I wouldn't trade that team — those guys I played with — for anything."
Jackson decided to commit to Duke following his junior year after spending the summer increasing his national profile while attending top camps around the country. Some of the camps he attended were broadcasted nationally and Jackson would consistently wow those who tuned in with his superior athleticism around the rim.
"I'd be nervous playing in all those games, but when I started playing and doing what I know I can, I started to get comfortable," Jackson said. "It was an amazing experience going to all those camps around the country and I've truly been blessed to have been able to do that."
Along with having the opportunity to play around the country, Jackson has also played abroad in places such as Dubai and Italy.
"I remember waking up one morning while in Italy and thinking how surreal it's all been and how lucky I've truly been," Jackson said.
In his final season playing for Lone Peak, Jackson was met with some new challenges, which included playing for a new coach, after Quincy Lewis left to take a job at BYU. Fortunately, he soon came to respect new coach Dave Evans almost immediately.
"Coach Evans was great for me," Jackson said. "He's a real player's coach who understands us as players and really knows how to coach us up. It was great learning from him and playing for him."
As for Evans, he immediately recognized Jackson's talent, feeling privileged to tutor him.
"I don't know if I'll ever have the opportunity to coach a player as talented as Frank again," Evans said. "What he's able to do athletically — it's amazing. He's truly a gifted athlete and a great player. We'll certainly miss him here."
Jackson upped his scoring average to 28 points per game his senior year, improving on all aspects of his game, although again coming up short of winning a state championship. Looking back on his high school success, not winning championships his junior and senior years is something he regrets.
"It was tough not winning it my junior year, but then this last year — it was that much tougher. It really stung and it still does," Jackson said. "But it motivates me to be even better. To keep on working and understanding you can always get better. You can always improve."
Jackson hopes to work as hard as ever when he enters the Duke program as a promising freshman. He also hopes to represent two things very near to his heart: his home state and his faith, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I'm not perfect by any means, but I still want to represent my church as best I can while at Duke," Jackson said. "It's important to me and I look forward to representing my beliefs as best I can."
As for representing his home state of Utah, Jackson takes it very seriously.
"This state is my home. It's where I'm from and it's where I grew to have the opportunities I now have," Jackson said. "So it's very important for me to remember where I'm from and to represent Utah basketball. I love this state and always will. It will always be my home."
As for being named as Mr. Basketball, it's right up there with any other of the many accolades Jackson has received.
"I've wanted it ever since I can remember and I'm truly grateful to be named Mr. Basketball. It means the world to me," Jackson said. "I've idolized guys like TJ Haws, Nick Emery, Tyler Haws and all the others, so to receive the same award they did — it's unreal and something I'll always remember and be grateful for."