South Carolina Basketball: Does GG Jackson’s draft day slide impact the Gamecocks negatively in recruiting?

South Carolina basketball star freshman GG Jackson will likely be headed to the NBA next year. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina basketball star freshman GG Jackson will likely be headed to the NBA next year. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

South Carolina basketball entered the 2023 NBA Draft expecting to break its five-season draft drought as forward GG Jackson was slated to be the first Gamecock selected in the draft since Sindarius Thornwell in 2017. In fact, up until the week of the draft, Jackson was touted as a guaranteed 1st-round selection, which would have been the first for Carolina since 2006 when Renaldo Balkman was picked up by the New York Knicks.

As it turned out, Jackson did end the Gamecocks’ draft drought, but things did not go as well as he or South Carolina basketball fans had hoped.

Last summer, GG Jackson decommitted from North Carolina, reclassified to the class of 2022, and enrolled a year early at the University of South Carolina. The Columbia native was going to spend a season with his hometown team before being selected in the Lottery (first 14 picks) of the 2023 NBA Draft.

Clearly, that’s not how things played out for the Ridge View High School product. The last year of Jackson’s basketball life was plagued by some issues both on-the-court (inconsistent effort, poor defense, and tough shot selection) and off-the-court (an Instagram Live rant against his coaching staff after a loss against Arkansas, poor interviews with NBA teams, and general maturity concerns) that clouded his enormous promise as a player.

Despite his immense talent and almost limitless potential, Jackson’s possible warts scared off enough NBA franchises that the once-guaranteed Lottery pick was taken midway through the 2nd round of the 2023 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies with pick 45.

Hot takes, cold takes, and everything in between have been flying around the internet since the late-night pick became official. “This is an indictment on Lamont Paris and the South Carolina basketball program,” and “Things are fine as GG Jackson’s draft night fall doesn’t matter at all” were both common refrains from Gamecock Twitter and other South Carolina-related personalities.

As is true for many disagreeing sides in arguments, the truth lay somewhere in the middle.

5-star Lexington High School prospect Cam Scott has been brought into this discussion significantly. As the big-time Columbia area product that followed Jackson, would Scott be more or less likely to stay home to play with the Gamecocks based on GG Jackson’s decision to do so and everything that came with that decision? What about other in-state talents like 4-star guards Elijah Crawford and KJ Greene?

The reality of those three situations is that they cannot be lumped into one category. Each one of those players is his own individual person and will, therefore, make his own decision.

Does GG Jackson’s willingness to stay home and play for the Gamecocks make it a little bit easier for Scott, Crawford, Greene, or the next big-time player to do the same? Sure. Do Jackson’s struggles and subsequent draft slide give high-profile recruits some pause when considering South Carolina? Yes again.

Lamont Paris did not handle “the GG Jackson situation” perfectly. But, in the end, the Gamecocks’ head coach figured things out and put his team and his player in the best position to win despite the difficult circumstance he found himself. That should give some semblance of confidence to other players that the South Carolina basketball team is led by a coach who can work through difficulty while also not giving in to every desire of a star player.

In the end, GG Jackson went to South Carolina with the sole intention of spending one year in college before heading off to the NBA, and he accomplished that goal. Had he returned to school for another season, perhaps things would have gone a little better, but he has plenty to be happy about when it comes to his basketball career.

It is important to remember that 2nd-round NBA Draft selections are not a death sentence to a young player’s career. The reigning NBA Finals MVP (Nikola Jokic) was a 2nd-round selection by the Denver Nuggets. Draymond Green, Dennis Rodman, Manu Ginobili, and Marc Gasol were all taken in the 2nd round. Concerning Jackson, in particular, he is the youngest player in the NBA and is on a good basketball team in the Memphis Grizzlies. Life certainly could be worse for him.

Situations like Jackson’s aren’t unique to South Carolina basketball, either. Fellow Columbia native Julian Phillips elected to leave the state and play at Tennessee. The former 5-star also ended up being taken in the 2nd round of the 2023 NBA Draft after significantly higher expectations coming out of high school. Players have to find the right fit for them, or draft slides can happen.

Ultimately, for Cam Scott and any others, the GG Jackson experience at South Carolina shouldn’t have a huge impact one way or the other. Jackson has had lots of positive things to say about his time as a Gamecock, and he endured some negatives (some self-induced, some not). South Carolina basketball will not be made or broken by what transpired over the last year with its top player, and the same is true about Thursday night’s NBA Draft.