When the fall semester began for students and athletes at universities across the country earlier this month, Tray Jackson could’ve been starting his college career in the Big East.
Instead, the 6-foot-8 forward and newest Gophers recruit decided working on his strength and honing his skills another year would serve him better. After reclassifying from the 2018 to 2019 class, Jackson will be a fifth-year prep at Sunrise Christian Academy on the postgraduate team.
Why didn’t he jump at the chance to play major Division I college basketball this year?
“It will help me develop more leadership and give me a little time to learn the game more,” Jackson said. “Focus on the stuff I want to get better with when I get to Minnesota.”
It was a decision Jackson made before he had a breakout AAU season with Chicago-based Meanstreets and attracted attention from a number of Power Five schools, including those wanting him to start his freshman year in 2018-19.
“He’s really gifted and talented,” Jackson’s AAU coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “There were many schools who recruited Tray and several of them were interested in him making that leap from high school to college this year. One of the things Tray said to me when I talked to him, and I believed as a coach, was that it was something he was capable of doing.”
Creighton, Xavier and DePaul were the main schools recruiting Jackson for 2018. The Gophers beat out Oklahoma, Seton Hall and Missouri on Monday for him to be the first member of their 2019 class.
Still 18 years old, Jackson wanted to play AAU ball again this year. Jackson was an explosive athlete with the ball skills to play both wing and power forward, but surprisingly he only had scholarship offers from mid-major programs after his senior season at Detroit Western International.
His list changed drastically after joining Meanstreets in the spring. Jackson was one of the breakout players early in Nike EYBL play, picking up offers from Xavier and Oklahoma before the summer. Minnesota offered him in June right before he took his first official visit to the Sooners.
Slaughter remembers the conversation with Jackson about whether reclassifying was the right choice.
“He wanted to get better,” Slaughter said. “He wanted to get better at different things in his game. Most importantly he talked about his desire to get stronger. He wanted to become more engrossed into the nuances of the game. When you think about a kid who is that talented and athletic, but has a willingness and foresight to stop the clock and get after it with physical growth and mental development, that says volumes about him and his insight to where he’s trying to go.”
Playing with Meanstreets, Jackson said he learned to be more aggressive consistently – and he hopes to take that attitude to Sunrise Christian.
“They taught me a lot,” Jackson said. “They helped me develop a killer mentality. I learned how to do everything harder and play harder against better competition. You’ll see a little bit more from me this year.”
Jackson’s team goal is to win a national championship at Sunrise, but personally he’ll focus on adding strength and weight to his 205-pound frame to be ready for the physical play of the Big Ten next year.
“Tray has been an amazing player and person to watch grow in his time at Sunrise,” Sunrise Christian postgraduate team assistant coach Riley Conroy, the son of Gopher assistant Ed Conroy, said. “We cannot wait to see how much he continues to grow this season. Personally, I’m even more excited because I know how great of a teammate he will be for my brother (Gophers walk-on Will Conroy) and the rest of the Minnesota team.”
--Jackson was invited in August to participate in the Nike Basketball Skills Academy in California, which included some of the top high school and college players in the country competing in scrimmages in front of NBA scouts and personnel. Former NBA players and coaches were also in attendance to give instruction. Last year, Gophers junior guard Amir Coffey and then-recruit and current freshman Daniel Oturu were in the camp.