SALT LAKE CITY – It may not have gone exactly as he’d hoped as far as his personal numbers were concerned, but Frank Jackson was still thrilled to be back home playing basketball Monday night against the Utah Jazz and leaving with a victory.
Jackson, who starred at Lone Peak High School, where he was a three-time first-team all-state player and the 2016 Deseret News Mr. Basketball, is playing his first season with the New Orleans Pelicans after playing one season at Duke University and sitting out the year in between with a foot injury.
In the Pelicans' 115-112 come-from-behind victory, Jackson finished with just four points, three rebounds and two steals after scoring 16 points in an upset win at Denver Saturday and 15 in a loss at Los Angeles last week. Jackson started seven games earlier in February with his best game coming in a close loss to San Antonio when he scored 25 points.
Before the game, Jackson talked about the thrill of playing back in his home state in front of family and friends, which he estimated at somewhere between 50 and 100 people.
“It feels great to be home in a familiar place, so this is special,” said Jackson. “I’ve got lots of family and friends. I’m just excited to get to play in front of them again and compete at a high level.”
Jackson moved to Utah with his family when he was 10 and lived in Utah County for the next eight years. After he went to Duke, where he averaged 10.9 ppg, Jackson elected to declare for the NBA Draft and was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 31 overall pick and immediately was traded to New Orleans.
Monday night, Jackson entered the game with 34 seconds left in the first quarter and received scattered applause when his name was announced. He immediately took a 20-footer that was short and then got gun-shy and passed up a wide-open 3-pointer from out top. He made his first basket at 9:48 of the second quarter on a 12-foot bank shot from the left side.
He started the fourth quarter, but didn’t touch the ball for the first four minutes before making a bank shot from the right side. He left midway through the quarter as the Pelicans were making their rally.
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry has been pleased with what Jackson has shown this season, particularly of late.
“The thing I like best about him is defensively,” he said. “He seems to be really solid and that’s an area where most perimeter guys struggle the most in this league. He’s shown that he’s going to be a really good defender. He’s a very athletic guy and his offense is coming around. He’s a terrific player.”
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder was impressed with Jackson in Utah’s 133-112 victory over the Pelicans back in October when Jackson scored 14 late points.Comment on this story
“The fourth quarter of our game there, he came in and ... really attacked the basket,” Snyder said. “Except now he’s doing it in the first, second and third quarters. Alvin is rewarding him with more opportunities because he’s playing well. He has the ability to get to the rim with his quickness and he’s shooting the ball well. We’ve seen him grow on a lot of levels.”
Jackson said he looks forward to returning to Utah in the offseason, which he still calls home, but in the meantime is building a solid foundation in the NBA.
“It’s been great, definitely a learning experience for me,” he said. “I think I put in the work and allowed myself opportunities to play. It’s an honor to be in this league and to try and stay focused and keep working hard. I have a lot to take away from this season.”