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Michigan Wolverines Basketball: Zeb Jackson Will Have A Role in 2020

Michigan freshman Zeb Jackson left Toledo (Ohio) Maumee Valley Country Day for elite Montverde (Fla.) Academy with high expectations last year. He was relegated to a reserve role for one of the nation’s top prep schools and took no shame in it, choosing to make the most of his opportunity.

Every day was a learning experience for the 6-4 combo guard, and he worked to take positives out of each one

. The result — he’s put himself in position for playing time on a Michigan team loaded with talent. The former four-star is currently behind grad transfer Mike Smith and senior Eli Brooks, but head coach Juwan Howard said this week he expected all three to play.

By putting the past in the past, Jackson has become one of the team’s “best surprises” in assistant coach Phil Martelli’s words — athletic, a good shooter and a great teammate.

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Michigan Wolverines freshman basketball guard Zeb Jackson is one of the team's young, pleasant surprises in the early going.
Michigan Wolverines freshman basketball guard Zeb Jackson is one of the team's young, pleasant surprises in the early going.

“The adjustment was definitely tough for me, just because I guess the situation didn’t go as I planned it to,” he said of playing at Montverde. “But we had a really good team, and every day for me was competitive. In the long run, it helped me a lot.

"I know a lot of people probably couldn’t see it, but behind the scenes, it definitely helped me a lot and prepared me for this level of basketball.”

The biggest strides he made, he said, were non-basketball related. The mental toughness required to adjust to less playing time and the unbelievable speed of the game were aspects he wasn’t going to see at Maumee Valley Country Day, and it helped him at Michigan from day one.

In that sense, there have been a lot of positive takeaways.

“I’m big on, especially since I’ve gotten here, improving every little way I can,” he said. “I know here, a lot of little things matter — everything from simply just sprinting the floor to cutting down the length of passes. There are a lot of things I’ve learned and took away from our practices here at Michigan.

… “Eli and Mike at my position have taught me a lot. I try to learn as much as I can when I’m on the side or watching. I try to watch those two, and I know Eli does a lot of the little things correctly. I learn a lot from them, and I keep asking questions.”

Just as he does with the rest of them. It’s a tight-knit bunch, and Jackson has been impressed with the leadership.

“I think the biggest thing that stands out with our team is how connected we are. I know with the past teams I’ve been on that have been successful or just past years in general, this is the type of environment it was,” he said. “I feel like we have a very good chance of being very successful just based on how connected we are as a group.

“As a freshman, there were definitely some things I couldn’t really prepare for because I didn’t know what to expect. But it’s honestly been better than what I expected, especially with the conditions with COVID and everything.”

He remained loyal after committing to former Coach John Beilein, only to see him opt for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Howard made it clear how much he wanted him, and Jackson never flinched in reinforcing his pledge.

"Coach Beilein and Coach Howard are both great coaches. Their styles are definitely a little different, but after Coach B. decided to coach for the Cavs and Coach Howard came in, the biggest thing with me was Coach Howard gave me the confidence I needed to still trust in him,” Jackson said. “He gained my trust from day one. That was huge for me.

“I was planning on being a combo guard anyway, so my role didn’t change too much. But my style of play has definitely changed.”

He’s relied on Zavier Simpson and others for the scouting report, so he came prepared. Now he’s ready to make an impact, and he’s impressed enough in the early going to think it might be a very realistic possibility.

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