In news the Kansas basketball program kept pretty quiet, Kevin McCullar Jr., has evidently been nursing a knee injury (which explains a lot if it's been bothering him over the last week). What KU fans feared the most was coming to fruition — the Jayhawks' paper-thin bench would be called on more due to injuries or foul trouble.
Bill Self called on Elmarko Jackson to fill McCullar's vacated spot in the starting lineup against Oklahoma State last night. Jackson had started the first 15 games of the season but had been replaced by Johnny Furphy after two Big 12 games. Jackson hadn't played particularly well off the bench, though he seemed to play less tight.
Jackson responded with arguably his best overall game of the season in the win. Statistically, the Wichita State game might have been his best, when he scored his career-high 12 points, two rebounds, one steal, two turnovers. Tuesday against Oklahoma State, he had 10 points, two rebounds, one assist, and two turnovers. Very similar lines for those two games.
The biggest difference is that Jackson played with a confidence not often displayed this season. He drove to the basket under control, he stepped into his two 3-point attempts with authority, and knocked them both down.
He looked like a different player.
Has Elmarko Jackson turned a corner mentally?
Something happened between Saturday and Tuesday. Against Iowa State over the weekend, Jackson was a complete non-factor, scoring no points and committing three fouls, with a single rebound and assist while only playing eight minutes.
Maybe the coaching staff suspected McCullar would be unavailable for Oklahoma State and spent three days boosting Jackson's confidence. Maybe it was that Jackson could feel that if he messed up, he wouldn't necessarily be yanked off the court immediately thereafter, thus allowing him to play more freely.
Whatever the reason, Jackson looked like a new player, one the fans have seen brief flashes of in the past, and one fans were hoping to see all season.
If Jackson can continue to play with an increased confidence and control, it could have a magnificent impact on this Jayhawks team for the rest of the season. If he can be counted on to play a few more minutes off the bench in relief of the starters, it could be huge down the stretch as the season grinds down toward the end.
During the broadcast last night, it didn't seem that it was a foregone conclusion that McCullar would be available Saturday vs Houston. In the biggest conference game to date, Jackson may be called on again to start, or, at the very least, be needed to give McCullar more rest than usual. After his performance against the Cowboys, Jackson now looks like he's ready to shoulder the extra responsibility.
It was great to see Jackson play so well in this game for the Kansas Jayhawks and it could be the dawn of a new era for the freshman guard. He looks to have turned a corner for the positive and the rest of the season should be exciting to watch him progress.