East Lansing — Following Michigan State’s exhibition victory over Ferris State on Thursday night, Spartans coach Tom Izzo had his share of complaints.
The defense wasn’t what he expected to see — most of it related to effort — while the early rebounding was lacking and the shooting percentage (.347) was poor enough that Izzo described it as a “joke.”
What Izzo couldn’t complain about was the debut made by 6-foot-11 freshman Jaren Jackson Jr.
“Takes a lot to impress me, but I was impressed,” Izzo said. “I was impressed because of just the demeanor he played with.”
That demeanor — where Jackson hardly looked like a freshman playing his first collegiate game — led to some impressive numbers, as well. Jackson blocked a shot on each of his first two defensive possessions and finished with eight while scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
That was all notable, as was his overall defense. With nearly an 8-foot wingspan, Jackson was a disruptive force on the defensive end, altering shots and gumming up the passing lanes. It was all effort, all from a player that came to Michigan State as a McDonald’s All-American that is already being talked about as a lottery pick in next summer’s NBA Draft.
“When he plays with effort, the skill is already there,” Izzo said. “You saw the second half he got really, really tired. That was pretty cool too because that means he went and pushed himself as hard as he can push himself. I’ve always been impressed with Jaren, but I was more impressed with him because of the way he did things.”
While fans hadn’t seen Jackson play since the Moneyball Pro-am in the summer, he’d been busy acclimating himself to the college game in practice. That wasn’t exactly going smoothly.
So, Izzo challenged his budding young star and like that, Jackson started to look like the All-American.
“We said yesterday after practice that he just flipped the switch and kind of got it,” Izzo said. “He had a hell of a practice, but he had a better game than he had a practice. Like I told him after, he did nothing that he normally does. He’s usually shooting a bunch of threes and making them. He didn’t take one. He didn’t really post up. He got offensive rebounds, he drove to the basket, he put the ball on the floor, he had no turnovers and he had eight blocked shots. He just played with effort.”
And when someone is that talented, the effort is what matters most.
There’s no doubt the outside shooting will show itself next, but Jackson said that wasn’t his focus in the first game. He was 5-for-9 from the field with four of those baskets coming in the lane. His drive and dunk in the first half was the highlight.
“You're supposed to play inside-out and make sure you develop yourself inside before you start jacking threes,” Jackson said. “I just wanted to make sure I was comfortable on the floor. If you start inside, things usually open up for you later in the game.
“I just wanted to play like I know I can.”
The way he can means the exhibition opener was just a taste. It showed a glimpse of what Jackson can bring to the Spartans.
He’ll get a stiffer test Sunday when Michigan State plays Georgia in an exhibition at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. But he keeps responding the way he has this week, it should continue to impress.
“A couple days ago we challenged him and he showed what he can do,” Izzo said. “That’s always the greatest part of coaching to be honest with you.”