High-flying Quenton Jackson turning heads for Capital City Go-Go

WASHINGTON — The path that Quenton Jackson has traveled in the G-League forever imprinted on him a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the present. He embodies the mantra of “Be where your feet are,” even when his sneakers are 40 inches off the ground.

Well, about that. Technically, Jackson recorded an official vertical jump of 38 1/2 inches at the 2022 G-League combine in May. But that defies belief when you see him fly through the air at 6-foot-5 and throw one of his numerous highlight dunks.

Jackson says the showcase came at an awkward time, just as he was criss-crossing the country with half of the NBA’s 30 teams for pre-draft workouts.

“I got up as high as I could, 38 on a bad day is good for me,” he told NBC Sports Washington.

That makes more sense since Jackson’s athletics pop off screen during Capital City Go-Go games. The 24-year-old LA native is trying to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA and is currently laying the groundwork for the Wizards system.

Attend a Southeast DC go-go game and you’ll likely see him floating over the edge. Earlier this season against Raptor’s 905, he drove the baseline for a merciless poster dunk.

Then, later in the game, he canceled a turnover for a Windmill Slam.

Jackson’s journey into aerial acrobatics began at a young age, although he was a late bloomer at basketball. As a kid he was always outside and on the move, doing standing front flips and back flips.

He can still do a backflip, even at 6-foot-5, and did so in the hallway after a game during his college days at Texas A&M.

Jackson learned to flip by going to Los Angeles’ Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park. He knew the receptionist so he got in for free.

“Me and my brother jumped in there for hours. That’s where I learned the technique for flips, dunking and all that,” he said. “I feel like jumping has a technique just like everything else has a technique. I feel like it has helped me control my body in the air.”

Jackson says he wasn’t able to dip between his junior and senior years of high school until the summer. As a senior, he dipped in a game for the first time.

Now he’s playing way above the rim in the G-League. Jackson, a go-go rookie, averages 14.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 50.7% from the field and 40.% from three.

“My jump came late, but when it came, it came,” he said.

Jackson has an explosive first step as he makes a direct line to the rim, but his path to the go-go involved some detours. Poor grades made him academically unfit for Division 1 basketball at the end of his high school career, so he spent a year at Hillcrest Prep School in Arizona.

From there he went to the College of Central Florida in Ocala, where he played two seasons and established himself as one of the top junior collegiate players in the country. After his sophomore year, he was invited to the All-American JUCO Showcase in 2019 by Scott Golden, a junior college scout.

Jackson played in an all-star game at the event that highlighted the top 20 junior college players in the country in front of a crowd of Division 1 coaches.

“He was incredible. When you first see him and he shows even a little bit of his athleticism, you’re pretty hooked for the rest of the game,” Golden told NBC Sports Washington. “It was pretty easy to remember. He had some stunning sporting moves and just dominated the day.”

Jackson, of course, won the dunk contest at the showcase. And as Golden recalls, he also attracted a slew of other junior college stars after it was over. They surrounded the court as he continued to take down gravity-defying slams.

“That was him. That’s Quenton,” Golden said.

Jackson was noticed by Buzz Williams, who was then a head coach at Virginia Tech before taking the job at Texas A&M. His first season with the Aggies was cut short due to COVID, but he broke out in his sophomore year and put himself on the NBA radar.

“[The JUCO showcase] really changed the course of my basketball career,” Jackson said.

Jackson was All-SEC at Texas A&M, but as a late bloomer in college he wasn’t a surefire NBA contender. When Wizards vice president of player personnel Frank Ross first noticed him, he was at Texas A&M games spotting players from the opposing team.

It was Jackson’s energy and explosiveness that caught Ross’ eye and earned him an invite to Wizards pre-draft practice. Jackson remembers it going well, in part because Washington put him through up-tempo drills and played to his strengths in transition.

Now he plays for the go-go and is working toward an NBA opportunity. Go-Go head coach Mike Williams says he influences the team on both ends of the floor with his active hands on defense and his quick twitch on offense. He continues to improve as he learns NBA action and reporting.

The more he understands about the NBA game, the more he can utilize his elite athleticism.

“He has a special swing,” Williams told NBC Sports Washington. “If he steps on you, you better watch out because he’s going to throw it on you.”

If Jackson can achieve his goal of becoming an NBA player, he will do so after being humbled by his journey. Williams was impressed by his consistent, upbeat spirit in practice and games. It’s clear he doesn’t take the opportunity for granted.

When they first met at Go-Go training camp, Jackson asked Williams how he was doing.

Williams recalled saying, “How are you really? How are you really?”

“He asked me that and I’m supposed to ask him that. So now we say ‘in a real way’ every time we see each other. It shows his character. He really cares about the people he’s with,” Williams said.

As Jackson says, he went the “long way”. Maybe one day that path will lead to the NBA.

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