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David Zalubowski, AP
New Orleans Pelicans guard Frank Jackson pauses during game Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Denver. The Nuggets won 116-111.

FRISCO, Texas — On Dec. 5, Frank Jackson made his NBA G League debut, and the Highland, Utah, product found the opponent somewhat ironic.

Playing for the Texas Legends, the Dallas Mavericks’ affiliate, Jackson scored 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out two assists in 33 minutes during a loss to the Utah Jazz's affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.

“It always just ends up that way, the state of Utah is always connected (to everything I do),” Jackson said prior to the game.

A graduate of Lone Peak High who was named the Deseret News' Mr. Basketball in 2016, Jackson, 20, was a second-round pick of Charlotte in the 2017 NBA draft after playing one season at Duke. The Hornets then traded his rights to New Orleans on draft night.

But due to a pair of foot surgeries suffered during his rookie season, Jackson didn’t make his NBA debut until Oct. 17, when he played two minutes in the Pelicans’ season-opener against the Rockets.

" I never really had a huge injury, so to be able to go through that, you really do appreciate the game of basketball (more). I appreciate my talents given by the man above.  "
Frank Jackson

“Just to be able to play the game of basketball and practice and be able to participate in games has been huge,” Jackson said. “Last year was hard. It was a struggle at times because when you can’t play the game you love for a year, you almost go crazy. It’s a blessing that I’m healthy and hopefully I stay that way.”

To date, Jackson has played 15 games with the Pelicans, but needed something he wasn’t getting in the NBA — consistent minutes. He landed with Texas because New Orleans is one of three NBA teams currently without a G League affiliate. The Pelicans assigned him on Dec. 4 and he debuted the next day.

In three games for the Legends, including two starts, he averaged 29 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game before being recalled by the Pelicans on Tuesday.

“This is a great team, a great organization, and I’m grateful that they allowed me to come play with them,” Jackson said of the Legends. “This is a good opportunity to get some really good games in and get better.”

The fact Jackson made his G League debut against Salt Lake City made that game even more special for the affable product of the Beehive State.

“Utah is my home. It’ll always be my home,” Jackson said. “I have so much love for the people there, all my friends and family there. That’s where I am in the summertime. I go back when I can, but the state of Utah will always be home to me.”

With Texas, he played for Bob MacKinnon Jr., a longtime G League coach who once led the Idaho Stampede, the franchise that relocated to Salt Lake in 2016.

MacKinnon Jr. realized he’ll only coach Jackson briefly, but was well versed in what he brings to his team.

“I really like his knowledge of the game, his basketball IQ,” MacKinnon Jr. said. “He has very good athleticism and a great skill set. He definitely, to me, is an NBA-level player.”

Jackson looked forward to returning to the Pelicans and learning from veteran teammates like Anthony Davis and Jahlil Okafor, a fellow Duke product.

But if there’s one date circled on his calendar, it’s Monday, March 4, 2019, when the Pelicans visit Salt Lake to face the Jazz, a night that should be Jackson’s first NBA game in his home state.

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And after being away from the game for a year, saying Frank Jackson will be grateful to play in Utah once again might be one of the biggest understatements ever.

“I never really had a huge injury, so to be able to go through that, you really do appreciate the game of basketball (more),” Jackson said. “I appreciate my talents given by the man above. Yeah, when step away from it, you realize how much it means to you and how much it’s involved in my life.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.