Jack­son Jr. show­ing big game, per­son­al­ity for Griz­zlies

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - David Cobb Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

Jaren Jack­son Jr. an­swered the last ques­tion from a semi-cir­cle of re­porters gath­ered around him and looked across the Griz­zlies' prac­tice fa­cil­ity in­side FedExFo­rum.

He saw team­mate Ivan Rabb, one of the last re­main­ing Griz­zlies in the gym af­ter Fri­day's prac­tice, and yelled.

“Come on, V!" the 19-year-old Jack­son said. "We’ve got a meet­ing. Nah, I’m play­ing.”

Jok­ing with the 21-year-old Rabb is one thing.

But Jack­son even elicited smiles from vet­eran team­mate Gar­rett Tem­ple in the locker room af­ter a re­cent game by sug­gest­ing that Usher, whose big­gest hits de­buted in the early 2000s, might be the 32-year-old Tem­ple's fa­vorite record­ing artist.

Such is the in­fec­tious na­ture of an NBA rookie with a mas­sive wing­span and sim­i­larly wide grin.

And when it comes to the coaches? Well, how could they be any­thing but smiles with the back-to-back per­for­mance Jack­son turned in against the Western Con­fer­ence's top teams this week?

En­ter­ing Satur­day's game against the 76ers, Jack­son ranked ninth among rook­ies in min­utes per game but sixth in re­bounds per game, fifth in points per game and third in to­tal blocks.

He av­er­aged 17.5 points, 6.5 re­bounds and four blocks per while play­ing 32 min­utes in back-to-back games against Golden State and Den­ver this week.

"The best part about him is he doesn’t even know how good he is yet," coach J.B. Bick­er­staff said.

"I think he’s just scratch­ing the sur­face."

Stay­ing out of foul trou­ble has helped. In the first full game Mem­phis played

with­out for­wards JaMy­chal Green and Chan­dler Parsons, Jack­son fouled out.

The next game, he com­mit­ted five fouls.

But Jack­son com­mit­ted fewer than four fouls in each of the Griz­zlies' last three games en­ter­ing this week­end's ac­tion.

"When you’re pick­ing up fouls, it messes with you men­tally, too, be­cause now you’re over­think­ing ev­ery­thing," Bick­er­staff said. "But now that he’s been able to stay on the floor, you can see the con­fi­dence grow­ing."

Jack­son has boiled that down to a sim­ple cal­cu­lus equa­tion.

“When­ever you don’t foul, coach is like ‘Oh yeah, he can play,’" Jack­son said. "So there you go. More fouls equals more min­utes.”

In­juries to Parsons and Green ac­cel­er­ated Jack­son's path to the start­ing lineup.

As for how he is de­vel­op­ing co­he­sion with vet­eran cen­ter Marc Ga­sol, Jack­son said, "chem­istry is built do­ing any­thing."

"Ei­ther I’m watch­ing him in his po­si­tion and I step in for him," Jack­son said. "Or if we’re start­ing to­gether, I’m play­ing off of him. All that comes with watch­ing film, even on de­fense if I know he’s go­ing to go help a cer­tain way, I can go help him.”

Jack­son said he tries not to dwell on the grind of an NBA sea­son, an 82-game slate that will dwarf the 35-game sched­ule he played at Michi­gan State a year ago.

But there is some­thing fa­mil­iar about his time at Michi­gan State and his time so far in Mem­phis.

He was a fresh­man there and a rookie here.

If you're the young guy on the team dish­ing out jokes and friendly jabs to­ward team­mates, you bet­ter be ready to take some, too.

"Don’t turn off your phone," Jack­son said. "Just make sure you’re on call. I make sure to al­ways be punc­tual to ev­ery­thing. Do ev­ery­thing they ask, be­cause then the haz­ing comes if you don’t do that.

"I just make sure my phone is on high ringer all the time. I’m ready.”

Reach Griz­zlies beat writer David Cobb at david.cobb@com­mer­cialap­peal.com and on Twit­ter @DavidWCobb.

NEL­SON CHENAULT-USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Mem­phis Griz­zlies for­ward Jaren Jack­son Jr (13) drives to the bas­ket against Den­ver Nuggets for­ward Paul Mill­sap (4).

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