Detroit Pistons’ Josh Jackson embraces playing at home, leading teammates through rebuild

Detroit Free Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Thirteen years before Josh Jackson signed with his hometown team, the Detroit Pistons were responsible for one of his favorite childhood memories.

Feb. 10, 2007. It was Jackson’s 10th birthday, and he was a ball boy for the Pistons during a home game against the Toronto Raptors. He was on the floor during warmups, passing the ball to Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and the rest of Detroit’s contending core. He sat right underneath the basket during the game and also visited the Pistons’ locker room. Nazr Mohammad gave him his shoes.

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Jackson, a San Diego County native who moved to Southfield when he was 8 months old, attended many Pistons games growing up. After three up-and-down seasons with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies, he’s now home and has found a home with the Pistons, who signed him to a two-year deal in 2020.

Jackson has been a consistent rotation player and veteran for the rebuilding Pistons, despite being just 24 years old. He’ll be a free agent this summer, but he’s excited for the future — both for the Pistons and for the city that raised him.

“I think my favorite part about it is just being able to play at Little Caesars Arena,” Jackson said. “Having all my friends and family there. I remember when I was able to go to Pistons games when I was younger, back in 03, 04, 05, they had a really good team. I just remember the atmosphere. Being able to hear “Detroit Basketball,” man it’s so surreal and just really cool.

“I can’t wait until we finally figure it all out here and bring winning basketball back to Detroit, and we just get back to that atmosphere,” he continued. “That’s my favorite part about it, being in that gym and listening to all of the fans.”

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Jackson led Detroit Consortium to a Class C state championship as a sophomore before transferring to Justin-Sienna High School in Napa, California. He was one of the top recruits in the country in 2016, and enjoyed a standout freshman season with Kansas before the Suns drafted him fourth overall in 2017.

It took time for Jackson to find a comfort level in the NBA. His two seasons in Phoenix showcased flashes of the enormous upside, but Jackson also wasn’t able to live up to the expectations. That, along with some legal issues, led to the organization trading him to the Memphis Grizzlies after just two seasons.

Jackson spent about half of his 2019-20 season in the G League before playing 22 games for Memphis and becoming a free agent. He  always believed returning home to play for the Pistons would be a possibility, and that came into fruition during the 2020 offseason. Dwane Casey and Troy Weaver saw Jackson as a player deserving of another opportunity.

Jackson understands firsthand just how much being in the right situation can determine a player’s success.

“This was a team where I felt like I could come in and be myself, and Dwane and Troy, I had a lot of trust,” Jackson said. “They believed in me a lot. I feel like that’s half the battle with the NBA. As long as you have a coaching staff and front office that believes in you and wants you to do good, that’s half the battle. That was really important for me, just how supportive they were. I could really tell they wanted me to succeed. I could tell they cared about me.”

Jackson returned to a city that had changed significantly in six years, as Detroit’s downtown and Midtown areas have gentrified significantly.

Thankfully several of Jackson’s favorite restaurants — including Bucharest and The Original Pancake House in Southfield — are still around.

He still has a lot of friends, family and former coaches in the city, including his mother and grandmother. He also has a close relationship with Pistons college scout Durant “Speedy” Walker, who formerly coached AAU squad “The Family,” which Jackson played for growing up.

“It’s been amazing,” Jackson said. “I got a lot of friends and family who spent a lot of time with me growing up, spent a lot of time in the gym, at those basketball games. I just got more people in my corner who believe in me. People don’t really know how far that goes when you’re surrounded by people who encourage you and believe in you and really think that you’re one of the best. That helps me and my confidence, a lot. Just having them in my corner, it helps me.”

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Jackson is averaging 7.6 points and 3.2 assists in 18.7 minutes per game this season. The Pistons’ are deeper at the wing positions compared to last season, reducing Jackson’s work load. But his contributions go beyond the stat sheet. He possesses something most of Detroit’s young core lacks — experience. He speaks with big-picture perspective as once one of the most heralded college recruits in the country who did not experience immediate NBA success.

Jackson has still had big performances this season, such as his 24-point outburst in the win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 3. But he’s also embraced being a mentor to his younger teammates — the Pistons entered this season the ninth-youngest team in the NBA.

After the Bucks win, he had words of wisdom for Saddiq Bey and Hamidou Diallo, who have been two of Detroit’s best players and recently thrived as offensive focal points while COVID ripped through the roster.

“All these guys here, at one point in time, have been the best,” Jackson said. “That never leaves you. You come in the league, you play and people try to tell you who you are and what you can do, and sometimes some guys buy into it and fall into it, but everybody in this league has game. … Everybody here can play. At one point in time everybody was a star player. And that star player is still inside of everybody in this league. I wasn’t surprised at all. I knew what Hami could do. I knew what Saddiq could do. It’s just about being in a position and having guys around you that are gonna help you get to that.”

There’s a light at the end of tunnel, and Jackson sees it. This is his third rebuilding situation, playing for Phoenix and Memphis. Both franchises are on the other sides of rebuilds, though — the Suns are the defending Western Conference champions and the Grizzlies have emerged as one of the top contenders in the West.

He sees the positive steps the Pistons are taking, and it’s meaningful for him that he’s witnessing it happen in his home city.

“You just gotta be patient,” Jackson said. “Of course we haven’t won the games, and nobody’s happy about that. I feel like we’re making a lot of progress. We won more games in the past month than we had going into the year. We’re just taking steps and that’s all we can really ask for.

“It’s been everything I expected. Love all the guys, love the coaches and I just love being here, playing in the city.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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