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Isaiah Jackson enjoying underdog role and battles with Olivier Sarr

Iron sharpens iron.

Isaiah Jackson. Olivier Sarr. UK Athletics

Today, Kentucky Wildcats freshman Isaiah Jackson met with media via Zoom to discussing the upcoming college basketball season.

Jackson, the 30th-ranked recruit in 2020 via 247 Sports Composite, was initially expected to be a role player off the bench who should be back for a sophomore season.

However, Jackson has been drawing rave reviews from coaches, teammates, and media who’ve gotten to watch practice, including ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes, to the point it won’t be a surprise if he hears his name called in the 2021 NBA Draft.

Jackson admitted that while he likes the praise, he prefers being in the underdog role.

‘It’s good publicity, but I really don’t try to look at those things,” said Jackson. “I like to think of myself as an underdog. Me thinking like that, I feel like I can show a lot of people what I can do and surprise a lot of people. I don’t really look at those types of things. I just try to go out there and play hard every day and try to get better.”

The 6-10 Jackson also discussed the battles he’s had in the pain with 7-foot senior Olivier Sarr, who should be one of the best centers in America this season. Going against that kind of a player will certainly speed up Jackson’s development.

“I like to compete against him too because iron sharpens iron,” said Jackson. “I’ve got a lot of stuff that I have to work on (and) he has a lot of stuff that he needs to work, so I feel like us guarding each other can help us tremendously, our skillset and just playing as a team.”

Here is a recap of what Jackson had to say via UK Athletics.

On his high school coach stressing to him about getting out on the perimeter and how comfortable he feels playing there …

“I feel like I have a lot to work on perimeter wise. With him telling me to play out on the perimeter, it helped me a lot with my IQ. I feel like I can pass the ball really well and my IQ is just starting to pick up better than what it was. I feel like that helped me a lot.”

On if it was hard for his high school coach to convince him to expand his game on the perimeter …

“No, not really. I always wanted to be a guard. I never wanted to play big, to be honest. So, him telling me and just giving me the greenlight to play out on the perimeter, it was just something I always wanted to do. I just took it and ran with it pretty much.”

On why he wanted to be a guard and why he was reluctant to be a big …

“I really don’t know, to be honest. Guards, I feel like they always have the ball in their hands. With bigs, it’s like bigs don’t really touch the ball. We really just get rebounds and play defense and stuff like that. Me playing guard, I feel like I can show people that I can play guard. I’ve got the IQ, I’ve been working on my shot, I can dribble the ball and things like that.”

On how good of a shot blocker he is and if he has a knack for it …

“Yeah, I sort of have a knack for it. It’s like natural. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s something that I guess I was born to do pretty much. It just comes naturally. I don’t even think about it; it just happens. It’s weird.”

On what he makes of the growing hype his teammates and coaches have built up around him recently …

“It’s good. It’s good publicity, but I really don’t try to look at those things. I like to think of myself as an underdog. Me thinking like that, I feel like I can show a lot of people what I can do and surprise a lot of people. I don’t really look at those types of things. I just try to go out there and play hard every day and try to get better.”

On how much he plays against Olivier Sarr in practice and if he’s ever on the same team as him …

“It’s on and off. Sometimes I’m on his team, but I like to compete against him too because iron sharpens iron. I’ve got a lot of stuff that I have to work on (and) he has a lot of stuff that he needs to work, so I feel like us guarding each other can help us tremendously, our skillset and just playing as a team.”

On if there is a past great Kentucky shot blocker that he grew up watching …

“I watched a lot of Anthony Davis, just how he played because we’re built the same. We’re tall, long, can block shots and do everything. I mean, me growing up, to be honest, I was always a Kentucky fan so when Anthony Davis got here, I was always watching Kentucky. Seeing the stuff he did was crazy, and I feel like I can sort of mirror my game after him in away. So, I try to look at him sometimes.”

On why he has the bandage near his left eye …

“It was an accident. I tried to block a shot. Someone went under me and I hit my head on the floor. I caught myself but I still ended up hitting my head. I’m OK though.”

On the feeling he had when he first came on campus and how that feeling has changed …

“We pretty much already knew each other because we were following each other on Instagram and social media and stuff like that – the freshmen guys. When I first got here, we couldn’t really be with each other or hang out or anything, but now we’re practicing. Even without us being able to go out and stuff like that, in the practices we’re sort of building a bond, if you get what I’m saying. It was way different at the beginning of the year when everybody first got down here because nobody really talked to each other. The more we’re talking in practice with each other, I feel like our bond is starting to grow more and more every day.”

On if there is anyone he enjoys going up against in practices …

“Really everybody. Really Olivier and Lance (Ware). They pretty much do the same things I do, so even when they’re playing defense on me, it’s hard to get up shots and stuff like that. I really try to beat those guys up in practice, so if you guard against somebody like me or better than me, they’ll know what to do in those situations and things like that. Playing against the bigs is my challenge really.”

On what he’s learned from going up against a veteran like Sarr

“Like you said, I’ve never played in a college game or anything so I don’t know how competitive it is. Telling by Olivier, I can tell it’s real competitive and you’ve got to be tough down there. Playing against him, watching him, or even doing drills and stuff and mimicking what he’s doing, it helps me a lot so I can know what to do in games and going against somebody.”

On how the Kentucky program is ran compared to his high school program …

“Here I feel like every day is a fight; it’s a battle in practice every day. Everybody here, you’re just not the—at Spire (Academy), I knew I had my position secured. There were people there, but they weren’t at the level that I was. I already knew I was starting and stuff like that, but here it’s like an everyday battle at practice. I mean, every day with Coach (John Calipari) is on you or the guy you’re guarding is busting your butt. You just gotta adjust. Competitive wise it’s different at practice. Everything here is full up-and-down speed. There it was—high school could take breaks. Here there’s no room for error or breaks. You can mess up in high school and it’s fine. You can go for a steal and don’t get the steal and end up getting the rebound and the dunk and it’s fine. Here if you do that, Coach is going to be on your butt and the team is going to lose their momentum and stuff like that. I feel like that’s one of the biggest things is the competitive part of everything.”