The Daily Gamecock

Former South Carolina men's basketball star GG Jackson reflects on professional success, lone season with Gamecocks

<p>Freshman forward GG Jackson looks to see if the ball went in on his shot attempt during the Gamecocks' matchup with the Crimson Tide on Feb. 23, 2023. Jackson spent his freshman year of college as a Gamecock and is now the youngest player on an NBA roster.</p>
Freshman forward GG Jackson looks to see if the ball went in on his shot attempt during the Gamecocks' matchup with the Crimson Tide on Feb. 23, 2023. Jackson spent his freshman year of college as a Gamecock and is now the youngest player on an NBA roster.

Former South Carolina men's basketball forward GG Jackson II is no stranger to the hype surrounding his name.

He spent his freshman season with the Gamecocks, demonstrating his potential as an offensive, high-scoring shooter, and declared for the 2023 NBA Draft last March. 

That hype has now turned into tangible results for Jackson, who is currently the youngest player on any NBA roster. Jackson returned to the University of South Carolina's campus on Feb. 17 for Legends Weekend, where he was honored by the basketball program alongside other players and staff from years past.

Returning home provided an opportunity for the Columbia native to reflect on his success as a professional and his experiences during his one season as a Gamecock.

Before joining South Carolina, Jackson was a local talent at Ridge View High School in Columbia, where he won back-to-back state titles in 2021 and 2022.

Yerrick Stoneman, Jackson's former coach at Ridge View High School, said he strived to turn Jackson into a high-caliber player.

“We worked really hard to develop him to be able to play on the wing, to be able to shoot it, to be able to handle it (with) one or two dribbles,” Stoneman said.

As a high schooler, he was rated a consensus five-star prospect by media outlets such as ESPN and On3.

Jackson originally committed to play for UNC Chapel Hill out of high school but ultimately decided to withdraw his commitment from the program in July 2022.  He said he wanted to explore other options that would put him in the best position to play in the NBA, choosing to reclassify to the class of 2022 and expedite his entrance into the professional league. 

In July 2022, South Carolina had two open scholarships remaining for the coming year, allowing Jackson to suit up in garnet and black that fall. He would be playing college basketball when most players his age were high school seniors. 

The decision was a worthwhile one, Stoneman said.

“I think we were discussing it, especially his junior year, about reclassing up," Stoneman said. "Our main thing was, 'Could he do it (maturely)?' It was definitely the right thing. He accepted his responsibilities and seized the opportunities.”

Jackson arrived at South Carolina as a 17-year-old and the highest-rated recruit the team had ever landed. But not everything went according to plan. The Gamecocks finished the 2022-23 season with an 11-21 record including a 4-14 mark in SEC play, head coach Lamont Paris' first with the team.

Despite South Carolina's lack of success, Jackson shined as an individual, leading the team with 15.4 points scored per game and contributing 5.9 rebounds per game. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team for his efforts.

Jackson could have used his three remaining years of NCAA eligibility developing at South Carolina, but he decided to declare for the NBA Draft instead. At Jackson's NBA Draft watch party in June, Paris said professional coaches and scouts would see more than just a talented player in Jackson.

“(Jackson’s) potential is through the roof. He’s long, athletic. He’s shown that he can shoot the ball with range,” Paris said. “I always tell (coaches), if you draft him and the basketball works out the way that I think it can work out for you, you’ll have a superstar on your hands. Not because of what he does with basketball, but because of who he is as a person.”

Stoneman, who has previously worked with future NBA players, said he believed an opportunity was there to take for the 6 foot 9 inch forward.

“He had that ability, but everything has to go right," Stoneman said. "It’s such a thin line for people to be able to make it to the NBA. You just look at how things folded this year for him. A lot of people had to get injured before he could show what he can really do on the court.”

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Jackson's career officially began on June 22, 2023, when he was selected as the 45th overall pick of the NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He signed a two-way contract with the team in August and spent much of the early season with the Grizzlies' affiliate team in the NBA G League, the Memphis Hustle. Jackson averaged 19.3 points per game with the Hustle before he was called up to the Grizzles' roster on Jan. 9, earning playing time with the NBA team.

Although he has been with the Grizzlies for several months, Jackson said he is still trying to make a name for himself with the team.

“I’m just been trying to maximize my role,” Jackson said. “I’m playing on a team with a lot of heavy hitters, so I’m not going to be that main focal point — which is fine with me. You've got to start somewhere, and I’ve put myself in this position through the work I’ve had here (at USC).” 

Jackson officially made his NBA debut against the Dallas Mavericks on Oct. 30. He was just shy of 19-years-old, the youngest player in the Memphis Grizzlies franchise history to appear in a game. 

Over 24 NBA games as of Feb. 26, Jackson is averaging 19.6 minutes of playing time, 11.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game while shooting 45.5% on field goal attempts. He recorded a career-high 27 points against the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 8, and equaled that scoring output one week later against the Milwaukee Bucks.

His on-court contributions were also rewarded with a new four-year contract from Memphis on Feb. 9, which includes three guaranteed seasons.

“I try to take little things from every basketball player, whether they’re playing or not, and try to implement them into one,” Jackson said. “I’m getting longer quarters now in the NBA with twelve minutes. The ball — it'll find a way to you. It’s just on you if it's going to go in or not.”

While his days as a Gamecock may seem far behind him with his newfound stardom, Jackson said he continues to hold the Gamecocks close to his heart even though he no longer plays in Colonial Life Arena. 

"It's no better place than home, I’ll tell you that," Jackson said. "Just the love that everyone has for me, through the ups and downs … this goes to show the love that South Carolina has for any of our athletes.”