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The most prestigious programs and biggest coaching names in college basketball are all interested in Lone Peak High School star Frank Jackson. BYU and head coach Dave Rose were most interested before any of them.
That's why, almost two years ago, before Jackson ever suited up for Lone Peak, he had a scholarship offer from Rose. In September of 2013, Jackson accepted that offer, verbally committing to Rose, and telling Brandon Gurney of the Deseret News:
"I'm excited and honored to be part of BYU's program. It's seriously a dream come true for me to play for Coach Rose and with all the other great players and coaches at BYU. I can't wait.
"It just felt right being down there. It's such a great opportunity and I love BYU's program. I always have. I love Coach Rose and he really reminds me of (then-Lone Peak and now BYU asst.) Coach (Quincy) Lewis with how he runs things and how he treats his players. BYU is a great school as well, so it was sort of an easy decision.
"I've become real close with (BYU signee) TJ (Haws) and he's a great example in every way. I can't wait…to play with him at BYU. I can't wait to play with all the great Lone Peak players next year and while I'm at BYU."
That was then, and this is now.
Since verbally committing to Rose, Jackson's high school and summer performances have opened eyes all across the country, and he has re-opened his recruitment, de-committing from BYU in the process.
The reason, as Jackson acknowledged in a recent interview with Gurney, was that he and his family simply didn't know at the time of the commitment just how good he was going to become. In other words, committing to BYU may have been a dream come true, but at the time, he may not have been dreaming big enough.
Jackson told Gurney that pulling his commitment to Rose was the hardest thing he has had to do, but in order to assess all of his expanding options, the recruiting process needed to continue. BYU now finds itself in Jackson's top ten with schools such as Duke, North Carolina and Arizona.
The senior-to-be says he hopes to finalize his college destination before the 2015-16 high school hoops season, after which Jackson says he intends to serve a two-year mission for the LDS church before embarking on his college career.
At the time of his commitment to BYU, Jackson was probably 15 years old-—a kid, in every sense of the word. He was doing what felt right, given his narrow frame of reference, from a recruiting perspective. He had yet to be exposed to the attention of America's most prominent college hoops programs, and he had certainly yet to receive his first text message from Mike Krzyzewski.
Now that Jackson is on every big-name team's radar and could essentially have his pick of any of the top teams, the question remains: how much of his initial feelings with regards to BYU remain genuine? Furthermore, in which ways can BYU expect to compete with Duke, North Carolina or Arizona in the efforts to land one of the very best guards in the Class of 2016?
In committing to BYU, Jackson spoke of "great players," "great coaches," and a "great school," resulting in an "easy decision" to pledge his playing services to Rose and the Cougars. Indeed, Jackson was hardly the only high-profile recruit projected to suit up in Provo.
Lone Peak alums Nick Emery, TJ Haws and Eric Mika are to be joined by Zac Seljaas, Payton Dastrup and others in forming the nucleus of what could be among BYU's deepest groups of Dave Rose-era talent.
Jackson would arguably represent the tipping point in taking a team from very good to great--he's that impressive. With or without Jackson, Rose will continue to put exciting and potent teams on the floor in the seasons to come, but there's little doubt that the inclusion of Jackson would heighten expectations to "Jimmermania"-type levels.
In re-committing to BYU, Jackson would hardly be the lone star in the Cougars' constellation, but he would ostensibly stand out more in Provo than in Durham, Chapel Hill or Tucson, from a purely athletic and competitive-impact perspective.
Jackson has been around the BYU program, its coaches and players for years. He is comfortable with the way Rose's teams play and knows many of his future teammates. His high school coach is now the newest assistant coach at BYU. It's doubtful that Jackson could feel any more at home than he would in the renovated Marriott Center. Parenthetically, it's unlikely that any other program could offer more in the way of creature comforts once the Marriott Center annex is completed—well before Jackson is ready to begin his college career.
Invariably, the Jackson discussion seems to focus on the following question: which school will give him the best chance to succeed at the NBA level? Almost as invariably, the most common refrain is that any number of high-profile programs would give Jackson a better chance for exposure and pro-game grooming than BYU.
Consider for a moment the fact that likely NBA MVP Steph Curry played his college ball at Davidson, and that two of the NBA's greatest all-time point guards (John Stockton, Steve Nash) played in the West Coast Conference. Those anecdotal references underscore the point: if you have professional talent, the professionals will find you.
Since the turn of the century, BYU has produced four NBA draft picks (including two Top 10 selections) and 20-plus players who have signed contracts to play overseas. Rose is in the top ten among current Div. I coaches in career win percentage. All-time, BYU has appeared in 29 NCAA tournaments—more than only a handful of programs nationally. BYU has produced multiple National Players of the Year. The Marriott Center annually ranks in the top 20 in national attendance.
In short, BYU's basketball bona fides are well-established--as are BYU's academic credentials. Those who make the argument that a player could get a better education somewhere other than BYU often argue at the same time that those schools would also give a player the better chance to get to the NBA--and more quickly, with or without a degree.
Yet, for all that the Cougars have going for them, when standout basketball players commit to attend BYU, it is often if not always for reasons that transcend program win percentages, tradition, facilities, or even academics.
BYU is a unique and special place, appealing to members of its sponsoring faith in a way that no other institution can. This is not to say that a fulfilling and productive on-campus experience cannot be had by LDS students elsewhere--of course that is the case. At BYU, however, the balance between a player's athletic, academic and spiritual commitments is woven into very fabric of everyday life. Walking on upper campus the other day with my daughter (a BYU student), I felt something hard to put into words--a feeling that first came to me as a student many, many years ago.
I'm sure every alum has the fondest of feelings for his or her college, but to this day, my walks around and through BYU's buildings leave me wanting to be a better person. I remain grateful for my BYU experience and all of things for which the school stands and to which it aspires.
I know that my sentiments are not uncommon among BYU students (present and former), many of whom are student-athletes I have interviewed over the years in the course of my professional duties.
Mike Krzyzewski is a legend. His Duke program is the best in the game. If Coach K were to offer Frank Jackson a scholarship to play basketball, no one would blame Jackson for choosing that route. Of course, he would be just the latest blue-chip addition to the Blue Devils' pantheon.
ESPN reports that over the last two recruiting classes, Duke has landed eight Top-25 prospects, including seven five-star commitments. Should Jackson choose another top program, I'm certain that the school's recruiting pedigree would be similar in nature. To any of those top-tier teams, Jackson's abilities would be considered traditional; at BYU, they could be transformational.
Before his sophomore season of high school ball, Frank Jackson said it "just felt right" being at BYU. Now with his senior season on the horizon, Jackson is being offered the chance to re-assess his feelings, under a much brighter spotlight. Time will soon tell whether it illuminates previously unforeseen wishes, or reinforces his desire to play at BYU.
Whatever Jackson's decision this time around, the attention surrounding it will mirror the progression in his jaw-dropping game. A low-key commitment two years ago will have as its encore a high-profile announcement attracting the rapt attention of Cougar Nation. If Jackson re-commits to Dave Rose, it will be because he believes that at BYU, you really can have it all.