Storyline: Jaren Jackson Jr Going Pro

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Jackson is pegged among the top-10 in almost every mock draft, as high as No. 3 overall by both ESPN and Sports Illustrated. “Spartans, this was not an automatic decision,” Jackson wrote. “And honestly, thank you for making it one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to think about. While playing in the NBA was always my dream and desire, I did not know the opportunity would present itself in quite this way. I’m ready to live my dreams and I cannot pass it up.”
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October 16, 2018 | 3:39 pm EDT Update
In China, he was unable to communicate, and therefore out of his element. A player from another team taught Whiteside how to greet: “Wǒ shì nǐ bàba”—hi, nice to meet you. He said it to everyone at home, on the road, in the gym. There were never any “you, too’s” in return, only blank stares. Well into the season, Whiteside found out from his team’s general manager that he was actually saying “I’m your daddy.” Whiteside immediately recognized the player in the layup line a year later, after he had left for Lebanon again, then returned back to China. He wishes he had dunked on him. Wǒ shì nǐ bàba.
That progress stalled in the 2017-18 season. And it felt impossible to get in gear from the sidelines. “Especially,” Whiteside says, “when you can see a game and you know you can help.” We’re settled inside now, sitting in leather chairs made for 7-footers. Last season’s body language experts would be picking him apart: slumped shoulders, looking in the distance as he’s talking. “Maybe our record would have been different. We would have been a whole different seed in the playoffs.” He knows he was sluggish after missing so much time—28 games total, nine in March. Less agile, slower, and trying to catch up on Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra’s schemes. I ask if he feared being forgotten again. “I can avoid that,” he says. Avoid what? “Falling back to people not knowing.”