This summer, South Carolina freshman forward GG Jackson was the nation's No. 1 basketball recruit in the class of 2023. He was preparing for his high school senior season in Columbia and committed to play college basketball at the University of North Carolina.
Now, Jackson is preparing for his first season as a college athlete in his hometown after he made the decision to reopen his recruitment on July 14 and commit to South Carolina.
“I'm right down the street from my home," Jackson said. "I live like 20 minutes from here. I can always go home and get a warm cooked meal. I just want to be able to uplift the city the way that (the city) uplifted me.”
The Gamecocks first offered Jackson a scholarship in December 2020, courtesy of then-coach Frank Martin.
Soon after Martin was fired, Jackson committed to the Tar Heels, and the Gamecocks hired Lamont Paris to be the next coach. While Paris tried to convince Jackson to rethink his decision, Jackson said it was "going through one ear and out the other."
“I already had my mind made up on where I thought I was gonna end up,” Jackson said.
Jackson said his decision to become the first player to decommit from North Carolina in the modern recruiting era was an emotional process for him. To aid him, he called on one of his close mentors and the founder of his AAU team, NBA veteran Chris Paul.
“I was crying on the phone," Jackson said. "I didn't know what to do or where my mind was. Me and my family, we came together, and we prayed for a lot of success and for God to guide me in the right direction, and I feel like he definitely has.”
Jackson reclassified to the class of 2022 and verbally committed to South Carolina on July 24. He signed his letter of intent the next day and officially became the Gamecocks' highest-rated basketball recruit in program history.
Since his arrival, Jackson has had to adjust to not only college basketball, but life as a college student.
“I don't have my mom, my dad anymore to knock on the door to say, ‘Oh, wake up you got school in the morning,’” Jackson said. “Overall just getting my body used to the college life. Having to lift every day, having to eat right because I didn't really know how much eating played a role.”
On the court, Jackson has had his share of growing pains. He said the game is sped up, and it's more difficult for him to get to the basket. However, he has been a fast learner, according to Paris.
“I felt like he had a capacity to learn, his capacity to learn was high, and I was right. I was prophetic,” Paris said. “He’s the type of guy, as a coach there are a couple other things that you say ‘hey one day as a group we’ll be able to do this,' ... and he’ll start doing some of those things on his own in five-on-five play.”
Paris also praised Jackson for his willingness and ability to pass. He said he always expects Jackson to improve and would like to see him improve his physicality on both sides of the ball.
Teammates have lauded Jackson's abilities since his arrival. Sixth-year forward Hayden Brown highlighted the ambition Jackson plays with as a strength.
“I am seven years older than GG," Brown said. "He’s 17, I'm 24. And so it’s just cute. … I get to see that ambition all over again. It’s kind of like a reflective moment for me and, for me, kind of like big brother, I’m like, 'Wow this is my little bro.'”
Jackson has bonded with fellow freshman guards Zachary Davis and Daniel Hankins-Sanford. The three have been together almost every day and are adjusting to the college experience together.
“Since we’ve been here all of us have been with each other every day working out, … riding, talking to girls, doing all that type of stuff,” Davis said.
The regular season is set to tip off on Nov. 8. Jackson said he has some nerves about suiting up in garnet and black for the first time.
“I'm definitely still scared for my very first game," Jackson said. "I don't know how it's gonna be. I don't know what the results gonna be. I'm definitely praying that God allows me to play the best game that I can and to help us get the victory.”
Jackson said he hopes the fans stick by him and the team, whatever the results are.
“Stick with us, no matter the ups and downs, because it may not be a perfect season,” Jackson said. “Just believe in me and believe in my teammates that we can get it done.”