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How Frank Jackson went from high school basketball star to Duke to the NBA

SHARE How Frank Jackson went from high school basketball star to Duke to the NBA
The environment in which he allows his players to play in was awesome. He treats it like we’re in the pros already. – Frank Jackson on Mike Krzyzewski

Former Utah high schooler Frank Jackson recalls the climax of his NBA draft night experience, and it isn’t as dramatic as one might expect. “My agent got a text, with Charlotte having about one minute left on the clock for their pick, and he leans over and tells me that the Hornets will pick me and then trade me to the Pelicans.”

For Jackson, that text represented a lifelong dream fulfilled and would be followed later by calls from New Orleans’ general manager and their head coach Alvin Gentry.

Frank and his father, Alvin Jackson, differ in their recollection of when Frank’s athletic abilities seemed to put him on a collision course with basketball as a profession.

Alvin Jackson recalls it being more about drive than athletic ability. “There are a lot of gifted athletes out there, Frank is no exception. It’s those kids who are ultra-competitive and have an inner drive that separate themselves from the pack. Frank showed that in the ninth grade.”

“In elementary school I would play with kids out on the blacktop or for field day and I was super competitive,” recalls Frank. “I felt like I was a better athlete than my peers even in grade school. I always had a ball in my hand of one kind or another.

Alvin, a former baseball and basketball player at Embry-Riddle University, coached Frank through much of his childhood and recounted the many hours spent in the church gym, beginning at 6 a.m., and the backyard. “When I came home from work each day, Frank had either a baseball, football or basketball in his hand because he wanted to play with me.”

In addition to quickly developing athletic talent, Alvin recalls noticing the young man that Frank is becoming. Frank and Alvin are each quick to credit Frank’s mother for laying a spiritual foundation that Frank openly and frequently references with the media.

“Frank is a tremendous role model who is always kind to those who seek after him. He does so many kind things that the masses will never notice,” Alvin says.

Baseball, basketball, football and golf would keep Frank’s attention until the ninth grade at Lehi High School. That’s when Frank realized basketball was more enjoyable than the slower-paced game of baseball and decided to focus on one sport.

“My dad reminds me often that baseball was my best sport but it got too slow for me and basketball was always my favorite sport,” Frank said.

Alvin recalled a game that freshman year when Frank scored 30 points against Lone Peak High School. Alvin still considers that one of Frank’s best accomplishments as it came both as a freshman and against one of the best teams in the state of Utah at the time.

Frank would go on to play for Lone Peak at the beginning of the following season. Both he and his father credit former Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis for taking Frank’s game to another level. Lewis is currently an assistant coach on Dave Rose’s staff at BYU.

“Playing against Lone Peak my freshman year you could see that they had a lot of success, and I wanted to be coached up the correct way,” Frank remembers. “He instilled a toughness in me that I didn’t have at the time, mentally, and he pushed me and got the best out of me. I learned about working hard, and not getting by on talent, from coach Lewis.”

Frank committed to play for BYU while only a freshman. As his game improved, however, more schools came calling. By Frank’s senior year, the Cougars were understanding and supportive as Frank withdrew his commitment and considered Utah, Stanford and Arizona, among others, in addition to BYU.

Much of Frank’s college recruitment centered on AAU tournaments and one, in particular, the summer before his senior season at Lone Peak stands out in Frank’s memory. The tournament was in Dallas, and Duke University, including head coach Mike Krzyzewski, had been scouting Frank in prior tournaments. Duke officials had been texting or calling Frank almost daily, along with those at other schools such as Maryland.

“I remember one of the early games of the tournament, my best game by far. I looked around beforehand, and I didn’t see Coach K and I thought that was sweet and I could just relax and play,” Frank recalled.

What Frank didn’t know was that Krzyzewski had been watching, and he texted Frank immediately after the game to tell him he was impressed with his play.

Later that year, Krzyzewski and two of his assistants had dinner at the Jackson home in Alpine, Utah. Frank knew, following a subsequent official visit, that Duke would be his next basketball home.

Frank’s development furthered under the tutelage of Krzyzewski.

“The environment in which he allows his players to play in was awesome. He treats it like we’re in the pros already,” Frank said. “It was eye-opening for me to learn what it takes to improve even further, and my work ethic improved again.”

For the first time while at Duke, Frank also dedicated himself to taking care of his body in a way he hadn’t needed to previously. Sleep becomes a priority in a way it never had before.

The 2017 NBA draft set records for the number of outgoing freshmen drafted in the first round and overall. Frank’s freshman season at Duke had seen some ups and downs, most notably a foot injury that prevented Frank from working out completely for NBA teams leading up to the draft.

Despite the injury, Frank removed his walking boot at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago and registered a vertical leap of 42 inches. Frank, now out of the boot, expects that to climb to 45 inches by the time training camp begins.

Following 14 team interviews during the combine, during which one team asked Frank to state how he’d prefer to die, Frank spent the time leading up to the draft visiting five teams in seven days. One of those visits was with the Utah Jazz.

When asked the day after the draft if he slept much the night before events at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center began, Frank laughed and wondered if he’s slept much in the entire two weeks prior.

Frank Jackson was wide awake as the Charlotte Hornets went on the clock for the first pick of the second round of the draft. He heard his name called and walked on stage, just as he had dreamed.

Mike Stapley, a father of two, is business sales manager for a telecom company and is an aspiring novelist living in Salt Lake City. Contact him at mstapley4@gmail.com