A year ago, Maryland forward Justin Jackson didn’t know what to expect.
A late-spring signee after first committing to UNLV, the quiet 6-foot-7 forward from outside Toronto was thought to be a nice addition to a recruiting class that already included local point guard Anthony Cowan and 6-6 wing Kevin Huerter, New York State’s Mr. Basketball.
Last season went pretty well for all three freshmen, who helped junior point guard Melo Trimble overcome the losses of four starters to lead the 24-9 Terps to the NCAA tournament for a third straight year. The expectations for Jackson have grown exponentially.
Taking the court Saturday night for the team’s annual Maryland Madness festivities at Xfinity Center, Jackson kicked off his sophomore season as a preseason All-Big Ten selection, a member of the Julius Erving Award (nation’s top small forward) watch list and a potential NBA lottery pick.
“It was a new process for me coming in as a freshman, a whole other country and everything like that,” Jackson said. “Coach has been there for me through the whole process, and I just feel like it’s a confidence thing for me. My confidence is building every day.”
Asked about his recent honors, Jackson said, “Truthfully, I had no idea about the [Erving] award. I woke up to a bunch of Twitter notifications. It’s an honor. It’s a great list; a lot of could have been on that list. Anyone could have been on that list.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Jackson has grown as a player since the end of a freshman year in which he finished second on the team behind Trimble in scoring (10.5 points per game), while leading the team in rebounding (6.0 per game) and 3-point shooting percentage (43.8).
“To me, about Justin, it was just learning how to work hard every day and push himself,” Turgeon said Thursday at Big Ten media day in New York. “And that's where I've seen the most growth with Justin. It was something that we talked about when the season ended, ‘If you want to be the type of player we think you can be, you've got to put in more than just what the coaches are putting in with you — extra time in the weight room, extra time in the gym.’ So he's done that. He's gotten a lot better.”
Used almost exclusively at power forward as a freshman, Jackson will be used more at small forward with the arrival of 6-10, 245-pound forward Bruno Fernando and the reported improvement of 6-9, 228-pound redshirt junior Ivan Bender.
Asked what Fernando and 6-9, 250-pound graduate transfer Sean Obi have added to the team, Jackson said, “They came in with great physical stature. Guarding Bruno down low in practice, guarding Darryl [Morsell] on the wing, that’s tough, too, because he’s a big guard.”
Turgeon said with the change in position, Jackson will have “the ball being in his hands hopefully a little bit more.”
“He'll play perimeter. We played four perimeter guys last year with him,” Turgeon said. “But his position, he'll play two positions for us. He only played one last year. He's really doing well.
“He's an amazing scorer, shoot the 3, he's got midrange game. He's got post up, scores around the rim. … He can really pass the ball. … We're going to put him in positions coming off ball screens and isolations, where not only is he making plays for himself but he's making plays for his teammates.”
Jackson doesn’t care where he plays on the floor.
“Personally I don’t really have a preference, wherever coach needs me, wherever I suit the team best. It doesn’t really matter to me,” Jackson said. “There’s nothing really different because I was on the wing a lot as a [power forward] last year. He said, ‘Be comfortable, don’t try to do too many things. Just be you and be natural.’”
NOTES: Fernando took part in the pregame dance competition with Morsell against the women’s team, but was held out of the eight-minute intrasquad practice after turning an ankle in practice earlier in the week. … Former Terps Damonte Dodd, Jaylen Brantley and Jon Graham attended the event. Brantley had transferred to Massachusetts and would have played as a grad student there, but recently was told he couldn’t play basketball anymore after he learned of a heart condition.