By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — If he’d forgotten, it took North Carolina forward Justin Jackson less than a minute into his NBA Draft Combine media session Thursday afternoon to be reminded of what city he was in.
“Have you thought about maybe playing in the house that Jordan built?” Jackson was asked.
“It’d be an honor,” Jackson responded.
Several minutes later, another Chicago-centric question came when Jackson was asked if he was friends with Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, a fellow North Carolina product. No, the two aren’t close, Jackson said, but he’s happy that Trubisky is “making a lot of money now.”
Queries of that ilk were much the norm, as you might expect. The line of questioning was why he was amused by this fact.
“What’s funny is I actually haven’t met with the Bulls,” Jackson said.
Rest assured, the 22-year-old Jackson is on the Bulls’ radar. As a three-year college player who was a consensus All-American this past season and who’s lauded for his basketball IQ, the 6-foot-7 Jackson fits the mold of Bulls management’s past draft history.
Jackson went through the predraft process last season but didn’t hire an agent, allowing him to return to North Carolina after he received feedback that he needed more seasoning. The decision paid dividends, as Jackson was influential in helping the Tar Heels win the national title and is now projected to go in the middle of the first round or perhaps as high as late in the lottery. Chicago holds the No. 16 pick.
His draft stock rose after he averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists on 44.3 percent shooting this past season. That included 37-percent shooting on 3-pointers, which was an area of focus for Jackson after talent evaluators told him a year ago that he must “shoot ball more consistently” to play at the NBA level.
“I took that extremely seriously,” Jackson said.
As of mid-afternoon Thursday, Jackson gone through 10 interviews, including with the Spurs, Nuggets, Timberwolves, 76ers and Knicks. He “enjoyed every single one of them.”
Whether his predraft process will include direct contact with the Bulls remains to be seen, but it’s a good bet. Jackson believes he’d be a good fit in large part because has the length to guard multiple positions.
“I can shoot the ball pretty well,” Jackson said. “That helps with spacing. Defensively, I think I can do a few things. You add both of those things into it, I think I’d help. At the end of the day, the Bulls are a great organization already. If I’m blessed to be drafted by them or whoever it might be, I think I can add just a few things to it.”
Jackson also holds a geographical if not personal connection to a member of the Bulls. Like All-Star wing Jimmy Butler, Jackson hails from Tomball, Texas. Jackson chuckled when told that Butler is fond of saying he’s “Tomball tough.” The two have never met, though Jackson respects the affinity Butler holds for their shared hometown.
Now, Jackson’s wondering what he will call home next.
“I’ll try my best to be the best I possibly can,” Jackson said. “Wherever it might be, that’s where I’m going to try to leave my mark and be as good as I possibly can.”
Notes: As of Thursday afternoon, UCLA forward T.J. Leaf hadn’t interviewed with the Bulls but expected to in the coming days. Leaf is projected to go as high as late in the lottery. Asked about the feedback he’s received regarding his draft stock, he called it a “safe” bet that he’d go between No. 10 and No 20 … Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon has a workout with the Bulls in a week-and-a-half, he said. The 6-foot-9 Lydon compared himself to Rockets sharpshooter Ryan Anderson. Lydon shot 39.5 percent on 3-pointers as a sophomore at Syracuse…. Maryland guard Melo Trimble has a workout with the Bulls set for next Tuesday, he said. He’s completely off many of the draft boards and trying to work his way into the second round … Iowa guard Peter Jok expects to have a workout with the Bulls next week. Like Trimble, he’s trying to work his way into the second round.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.