Kansas basketball freshman Elmarko Jackson projected as top-5 NBA Draft pick

Elmarko Jackson #8 in the All-American game (Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports)
Elmarko Jackson #8 in the All-American game (Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports) /

Despite not having played a minute of real game time for the Kansas Jayhawks, big expectations are already pouring in for freshman Elmarko Jackson.

Jackson arrived in Lawrence earlier this summer as part of a once-stellar 2023 recruiting class. That class has since taken a turn following Chris Johnson and Marcus Adams Jr.’s requests to be released from their National Letters of Intent.

Still, Jackson appears to be more than enough of a consolation prize for head coach Bill Self and his staff.

The 6-foot-3 guard out of South Kent, Connecticut, was a consensus four-star, top-30 recruit coming out of high school, according to all major recruiting sites. He chose KU over offers from Texas, UCLA, Villanova, and other top programs in the country.

Although he never reached five-star status in the various recruiting rankings, Jackson was still selected to play in the 2023 McDonald’s All-American Game this past spring. That appears to be where he really started to turn heads.

“Jackson has a little extra bounce in his step that few of the other ball handlers have, and that pop really lets him get into the lane and make things happen,” said 247Sports recruiting expert Eric Bossi following a McDonald’s All-American Game practice. “During shooting drills, his shot looks like it is trending towards much improved. This kid looks like a guy that Bill Self is going to love.”

Jackson demonstrated his athleticism during the Slam Dunk Contest by dunking over 7-foot Kentucky commit Aaron Bradshaw. He also slammed home a dunk after clearing Ronald McDonald and a young fan with ease.


His athleticism and ability to create shots is part of why he was listed No. 5 on Bleacher Report’s recent NBA Draft Top-50 Big Board.

“In a class lacking high-level shot-creators, Elmarko Jackson could emerge as the most dangerous with his handle and burst,” said Lead NBA Draft Insider Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report. “His athleticism is also functional for off-ball finishing, as he’s often creating highlights with his bounce for cuts or putbacks.”

Jackson’s upside appears to be through the roof. The question is, will he get enough playing time this upcoming season to demonstrate his abilities to NBA scouts?

We know Dajuan Harris will be starting at point guard, and Kevin McCullar, KJ Adams, and Hunter Dickinson have their spots locked in too. But will Jackson get the nod as that fifth starter over the more experienced Texas transfer Arterio Morris? What will his minutes look like coming off the bench if he doesn’t start? How might incoming senior transfer guard Nick Timberlake impact his minutes?

These are questions we don’t yet have answers to, but players – especially freshmen – don’t get projected to be top-10 NBA Draft picks without ever playing a minute of college basketball if they don’t have serious potential.

And with the departure of Marcus Adams and Johnson choosing not to come to Kansas basketball, that only increases the odds of Jackson seeing the floor and the minutes he might receive.

Much of the focus of this year’s team is on returning players like Harris and McCullar, as well as the impact of the No. 1-rated transfer Hunter Dickinson – and understandably so.

But as of now, it is the freshman Jackson who appears to be the best pro prospect on this roster, and that should have Jayhawk fans even more excited for this team as the season draws near.

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