A preseason surprise, UK freshman Jackson relishes underdog role

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By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Isaiah Jackson has always considered himself an underdog and wants to keep it that way going into his freshman season at Kentucky.

“Me thinking like that, I feel like I can show a lot of people what I can do and surprise a lot of people,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t really look at those types of things. I just try to go out there and play hard every day and try to get better.”

Unlike high school, Jackson has noticed a difference at the collegiate level and admitted that “every day is a fight” going up against his current teammates in practice.

“It’s a battle in practice every day,” he said. “Everybody here, you’re just not the — at Spire (Academy), I knew I had my position secured. There were people there, but they weren’t at the level that I was. I already knew I was starting and stuff like that, but here it’s like an everyday battle at practice.”

He has noticed a big difference in the competitive nature of the intense practice sessions.

“Competitive-wise it’s different at practice,” he said. “Everything here is full up-and-down speed. (In) high school could take breaks. Here there’s no room for error or breaks. You can mess up in high school and it’s fine. You can go for a steal and don’t get the steal and end up getting the rebound and the dunk and it’s fine. Here if you do that, Coach is going to be on your butt and the team is going to lose their momentum and stuff like that. I feel like that’s one of the biggest things is the competitive part of everything.”

So far in preseason camp, Jackson, 6-foot-9 and a competitor himself, has turned some heads in practice, including Kentucky coach John Calipari.

“(He) can do more than I thought,” the Kentucky coach said,

Jackson has impressed the Kentucky coaching staff with his shot-blocking skills and overall consistency. More of a post player, Jackson has improved his play on the permitter.

“Playing guard, I feel like I can show people that I can play guard. I’ve got the IQ,” he said. “I’ve been working on my shot, I can dribble the ball and things like that.”

Although his perimeter skills are a continual work in progress, Jackson is known as a consistent shot-blocker, which he says comes easy and is one of the biggest assets he brings to the table.

“I sort of have a knack for it (and) it’s like natural,” he said. “I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s something that I guess I was born to do pretty much. It just comes naturally. I don’t even think about it; it just happens. It’s weird.”

Jackson is a fan of former Kentucky standout Anthony Davis and became a fan of the Wildcats after Davis led Kentucky to the NCAA Championship in 2012.

“I watched a lot of Anthony Davis, just how he played because we’re built the same,” he said. “We’re tall, long, can block shots and do everything. I mean, me growing up, to be honest, I was always a Kentucky fan so when Anthony Davis got here, I was always watching Kentucky. Seeing the stuff he did was crazy, and I feel like I can sort of mirror my game after him in a way. So, I try to look at him sometimes.”

So far in practice, Jackson has enjoyed going up against his new teammates, including veteran and Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr, one of the team’s top post players.

“Sometimes I’m on his team, but I like to compete against him too because iron sharpens iron,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of stuff that I have to work on (and) he has a lot of stuff that he needs to work, so I feel like us guarding each other can help us tremendously, our skillset and just playing as a team.”

Now that practice has brought the team closer together, Jackson said the Wildcats are starting to bond as a team.

“The more we’re talking in practice with each other,” he said. “I feel like our bond is starting to grow more and more every day.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or Twitter @keithtaylor21