Stay grounded, stay humble and keep working.
Those were among the words of advice from Justin Jackson to some of the top U14 male and female basketball players from around B.C.
Jackson, an NBA 2018 second-round draft pick of the Denver Nuggets subsequently traded to the Orlando Magic, was speaking at the UA Next Combine Series Powered by Jr. NBA on Sunday afternoon at Langley Events Centre. He was joined by former WNBA player Stacey Lovelace.
The assembled teens – 26 male and 25 female – were at the event by invitation only, selected to showcase their skill set, and learn what it will take to succeed in the next chapters of their respective basketball journeys.
“There are a lot of talented kids out here and I am seeing them do a lot of advanced things, making the right reads and the right moves, and things like that, so it shows there is a lot of special talent here and with that talent, you just have to keep working hard,” Jackson said.
“Talent can only bring you so far, but it is hard work and work ethic which brings you to another level.”
The event featured the same state-of-the art circuit used during the NBA draft and the invitees – who were outfitted in Under Armour gear – went through an interactive combine experience, using digital extensions alongside skill instruction from clinicians designed to help them excel at the high school level.
There were also scrimmages and an opportunity to pose with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the grand prize in the NBA, as well as a Q and A session with Jackson and Lovelace.
“Do what you do best and what you are good at and the right people will notice,” Jackson said. “That is something I have lived by from the beginning of my career.”
Jackson, who is from Toronto and was drafted after two seasons with the University of Maryland, said players need to keep steady and never place too much importance on one game or event.
“I just try and treat everything the same, like I am on the playground playing with my friends and stuff like that. I try not to put anything too high on a pedestal. You got noticed and invited here for a reason and whatever you did (to earn that), just keep doing that,” he said.
Lovelace, who had a seven-year WNBA career after playing at Purdue University, said players need to treat practice like they would studying for an exam.
“Embrace practice. If you put effort into your preparation, you will go in (to a game) feeling much more confident,” she said.
Great practice habits will help a player feel strongly in their preparation, so when it comes time to perform on the court, they will go in feeling confident.
Some of the teens admitted to nerves when the event began late Sunday morning, but by the end there were plenty of smiles.
“It has been great. We learned a lot,” said Langley’s Trevor Duffin. “When we were talking to Justin (Jackson) and Stacey (Lovelace), it was really good for the mental aspect of the game. It really gets you thinking.”
“This was a good experience,” added Chilliwack’s Julia Tuchscherer. “It has all been pretty cool.”
This marks the second year of the combine, but this was the first time it was held in B.C. Following this event, it will make stops in Toronto and Montreal.