With a first five that would start at just about any school in America and a couple of solid bench options, as well, the Kansas men’s basketball team does not necessarily need more talent to make a run at another national title during the 2023-24 season.
But the Jayhawks do need depth. And there’s one player on the roster who could give them more of that than anyone else, possibly in recent memory.
His name is Elmarko Jackson. He’s a true freshman from South Kent, Connecticut. And he was the highest-rated KU signee in the 2023 class. So, it makes sense that he would be viewed as a key piece for Kansas even as a first-year player. After all, Top-40 prospects tend to find their way onto the floor at most schools during most seasons.
Jackson’s case is a little more interesting, though. He’s viewed by several pundits as the best NBA prospect on the current roster and there’s an equal chance that he could wind up being a one-and-done guy or a two- or three-year Jayhawk.
Some of that will depend on the numbers he puts up, the feedback he gets and his own personal goals. The rest will depend upon how well he showcases his game during whatever time he spends at Kansas.
With just 10 scholarship players on the roster at the moment, the good news for Elmarko is that he should have an abundance of opportunities to showcase all aspects of his ability.
It’s not entirely crazy to think of him being a spot starter, but even if he never starts, his skill set and versatility should make him a terrific option off the bench for a lot of reasons and in different ways.
Here’s a look:
• He figures to open the season as the primary back-up to Dajuan Harris Jr. at the point. That’s a big responsibility for a freshman to hold, but Jackson’s size (6-4, , skills, vision and play-making ability should make him a terrific option to run KU’s second unit during the handful of minutes that Harris is not in the game. The two could spend some time playing together, too, but that will depend on what’s happening with other guys at other spots.
• He has the scoring prowess to slide in to the 2 spot as a back-up to Arterio Morris and/or Nick Timberlake. He’s not necessarily known as a great outside shooter but he can and will take rhythm jumpers from the perimeter. And if it’s scoring that you’re looking for from this spot, Jackson will find a way to get it done by attacking off the bounce, getting to the free throw line and knocking down jump shots on occasion. His success in this role will be all about the freedom he gets within it from the coaches. And that will only come if he shows he can do what’s needed on the defensive end possession after possession.
• One of the easiest areas to spot Jackson as an elite talent is in transition, where he already is one of the two or three best KU players on the break on this roster. He moves fast and with efficiency. He can be a blur when sprinting up the floor in transition. And he always seems to be looking to make his runs on the break all the way to the rim, seeking to attack the basket every time he takes off. If KU’s looking to play it’s fastest lineup, it’s not hard to envision Jackson being in it. Again, though, that only happens if he gets the job done on the defensive end and shows he can turn defense into offense and deliver on those stop-on-a-dime moments when his teammates force turnovers and create a numbers advantage for the Jayhawks.
• With Jackson standing 6-foot-4 and around 200 pounds, it’s not even that much of a reach to think he could spell teammates at the 3 spot, giving him the opportunity to check into the game at any of the three guard spots in KU’s lineup. While that kind of versatility is not uncommon for a Bill Self-coached basketball team, it is a departure from what the Jayhawks rolled with last season. Although Self tried to utilize different players in different spots when needed, the guards on the bench had pretty set roles. Bobby Pettiford was the back-up to Harris and didn’t play much when Harris was in the game. Joe Yesufu played primarily off the ball and was only a point guard in a pinch. And MJ Rice never found a consistent role while struggling to stay healthy and get going.
Jackson may have started on a lot of KU teams in the past. He’s a serious talent with great size and a competitive drive. All of the early indications also suggest that he’s a good teammate and willing to embrace whatever role he earns.
The fact that the Jayhawks likely now have that type of player coming off of the bench — I’d guess he’ll be the first guard in and can replace any one of three starters — is a good indication of just how much this roster has improved.
Going to the bench a season ago was often seen as a risk and a you-never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get adventure.
Jackson should stabilize that right away this season and given the limited depth on the roster as a whole should work his way into a pretty big role regardless of when, where and how he’s used.
— For tickets to all KU athletic events, visit kutickets.com