Updated: Mar 20
Elmarko Jackson shot up the national rankings after a standout summer with Under Armour's Delaware-based AAU program, We R1. After earning offers from a myriad of high major programs, the 6’3” guard continued to rise, leading to him committing to Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks alongside fellow ‘23s Chris Johnson and Jamari McDowell. On the UAA circuit, per Synergy, Jackson averaged 16.8 points, 4 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 0.3 blocks per game on 51.5/32.7/78.6 shooting splits. Consistently thriving as a self creator, Jackson finished out UAA in the 88th percentile for scoring efficiency as a pick-and-roll ball handler, as well as in the 95th percentile in isolation.
Jackson’s excellence did not cease there, as he helped lead South Kent to a 32-7 season record, including a 15-1 NEPSAC record and regular season champion honors in addition to the 2023 NEPSAC Class AAA title. Last month, Jackson was named a McDonald’s All American, making him the 50th All-American to attend Kansas.
Pro Insight’s Alex Brown connected with Jackson to discuss his basketball journey, rise to McDonald’s All-American status, experiences with Kansas, We R1, and South Kenth, his mental approach, life off the court, and plenty more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A Series, we present the five-star 2023 guard, Elmarko Jackson, from Marlton, New Jersey:
Pro Insight: For those who may not be all that familiar with you, introduce yourself.
Elmarko Jackson: I'm Elmarko Jackson, I play for South Kent School, and I'm from Marlton, New Jersey.
PI: Can you walk us through your basketball journey? How did you get to where you are today?
EJ: So I started playing basketball in like fifth grade, just for fun, I was just like playing around. I was mainly a lacrosse player, that was my first sport. So I took that serious pretty much up until sophomore year, lacrosse that is. When COVID hit, I started taking basketball more serious. I started playing with the We R1 program out of Delaware, I just started working out everyday. This past summer, I had a really good summer, just after a lot of hours in the gym. I was grateful to get a lot of offers from like a whole bunch of schools and stuff like that, and a whole bunch of guidance from people in the basketball game, in the basketball world, on just how to get better. Then, I ended up here at South Kent, which I feel was like a great move for me, just because of the coaching staff and the players that surround me here. I just get better every single day, and then on top of that the competition of the NEPSAC is amazing. So yeah, and then shortly after I got here I committed to Kansas.
PI: After all that, now you have been selected as a McDonald’s All-American! Congratulations. What does that mean to you?
EJ: It is really surreal. Like last year, if you would have told me I would have been a McDonald's All-American, I would have been like “that's crazy.” But I feel like, just it feels really great, you know, just like seeing your hard work come to light. But I know that this isn't where I want to like stop or plateau at, I know I still want to get better each and every day and hopefully reach that elite goal of being a really good player in NBA.
PI: Also, congratulations on the commitment to Bill Self and Kansas. What about KU are you looking forward to most?
EJ: I mean, I'm really excited about getting coached by coach Bill Self, you know, he's a legendary coach. And then I talked with a bunch of the guys on my visit about how he coaches players, and how he really just gets the best out of his players, just competing with them every single day trying to get them to give their all, and then just like putting a battery in their back. I talked with Christian Braun about how like, you know, coach Self is a crazy, crazy coach, but like when he instills that confidence in you, it's like you're the best player on earth. So, I'm really excited for that.
PI: Who were some of the players you got to connect with on your visit?
EJ: I got to chop it up with Bobby Pettiford, Zach Clemence, pretty much the whole team, really. I went to dinner at coach Self’s house, had dinner with the team, and then just went to chill with the guys at McCarthy Hall, just got to pretty much view the living area and all that. So I was really with everybody, I was with Jalen Wilson, yeah I was really with the whole team. It was really good.
PI: Describe your time with We R1. How has that experience helped prepare you for the next level?
EJ: I mean my experience with We R1 was great, I played since sophomore year, so I played two years with them, and I was coached both years by Terrell Myers. He’s a great coach, I feel like he really just opened my eyes when it came up to basketball, he made me view the game in a different way, approach it in a different way and all that. He was one of the guys there that helped me a lot. Coach Ron Martin, head of We R1, that's my guy. I call him ‘Unc’ because he's just like my uncle, like my old uncle. But yeah, my time with We R1 was great. The alumni base is pretty big there, some big guys come out here like Zay Wong (Isaiah Wong), Trevon Duvall, some other guys. You know during covid when the gyms were just starting to open up, we had some We R1 guys come to a gym and get some pro runs in. So it was great, like just the opportunities that they gave me to get better everyday, on and off the court, just teaching me right from wrong, and helping me be a better human being in general.
PI: I heard coach Myers calls you “Bruce” — how did that come about?
EJ: *Laughs*, oh yeah he calls me Bruce because my first year I was playing for him, we were in Georgia for the first session [of UAA]. He saw we were kind of down, we were getting on a downhill slope as a team and they were getting a pretty big lead, and I got pretty mad on the court. Not like yelling at my teammates or anything, just like a bull in a china shop just trying to get to the rim at whatever cost necessary. So he said I am like Hulk when I am angry, and Bruce is Hulk’s alter-ego, so he just started calling me Bruce.
PI: Let’s discuss some on-court stuff real quick — what are Elmarko Jackson’s strengths?
EJ: I feel like my strength is getting downhill, for sure — I feel like there are not a lot of people in the country that can really stay in front of me one-on-one when I put my foot to the ground. I feel like my physicality, I am a pretty good athlete, and I use my tools pretty good, and I am still learning to use my physical tools every day. And then, I feel like I have a pretty good IQ. I am still trying to get better at it, but like I said, with the help of coach Terrell Myers and the entire South Kent coaching staff, they help me everyday on sharpening up these tools.
PI: One area that popped when we caught you live over the summer/fall was just how great of physical shape you were in, and how much your game benefited from that. Could you share a bit about your mentality when it comes to training and just being in shape for the next level?
EJ: Well for me, training, I feel like to get a good workout you don't have to be in the gym for like three hours…you can get a really good workout in like an hour-and-a-half or hour if you just really go hard the entire time, game speed, and just push yourself to make mistakes and go harder. So I feel like that's how I train. I just try and tire myself out as much as I can, make shots when I'm tired, because you know when you're in the late game that's when it really counts, like those clutch moments.
PI: How about some improvement areas? What are you working on or trying to add to your game?
EJ: I am working on just each time down the court switching it up on the defense and making them guess a little bit — more whether I'm driving, shooting, or passing to a teammate. Just switching up the feel of the game so I can keep everything offensively for us in a good flow, but defensively to get them out and scramble and stuff like that. Then shooting, I feel like my shooting has developed a lot, but I still want to get better, extend my range, and be more efficient and consistent with it. Then, obviously reads, like coming off the ball screen and just seeing the defense. Defensively, I feel like the tools that I have, the physical tools that I have, I could be a better defender, so I just want to work on my lateral quickness.
PI: What would you consider to be some underrated aspects about your game?
EJ: I would say passing. I feel like I'm a pretty good passer — when I make passes, I feel like they're pretty much on target, on the money. Yeah I would say passing, I feel like passing is an underrated part of my game.
PI: How would you describe your mental approach on both ends of the court?
EJ: Offensively, when I'm on the court I'm thinking about what the defense is doing, where's the help coming from, I'm just trying to keep the flow going. So, say if one of my teammates just hit a shot, I am trying to run a play for my teammate to get him another shot, make him knock it down. Or if I'm on a roll, like, keep attacking. Defensively, just playing the ball no matter where my man is at on the floor, just being in the right help gaps and all that, just trying to stay locked in and be a killer on both ends.
PI: Do you watch film often? If so, is there anyone you study or model your game after?
EJ: Yeah, yeah, I watch a lot of film. I feel like I model my game after Kobe a little bit, Kyrie, KD. I just started watching some Deron Williams and some Gilbert Arenas. Then for defense I like John Wall, I like Pat Bev, and Marcus Smart, so a little bit of everything, I like shades of everything.
PI: What motivates or pushes you to work hard?
EJ: My mom pushes me, she's just helped me a lot with everything in my life. I feel like without my mom I don't think I'd be in this position. My mom pushes me a lot, on and off the court, and yeah I just thank her a lot, just so much for that.
PI: Let's talk a bit more about off the court. Maybe talk about your family a bit and describe that dynamic?
EJ: Home life, I have a mom, stepdad, a sister, and then a little brother — so our family dynamic is pretty much like, we just chill, easy going family, you know? Yeah, we're all there for each other.I don't know, we're pretty normal, we don't have nothing crazy going on. But growing up before my stepdad came into the picture, it was just me, my mom, and my sister, so like we're really close, we’re like the Three Musketeers. And then our little brother is like our new guy in the group along with my stepdad, so yeah.
PI: Do you have any other athletes in the family?
EJ: My uncle on my dad’s side, who I am really close with, he played in the NFL: Marlin Jackson.
PI: How would you describe your personality off the court?
EJ: I feel like off the court I'm pretty funny and laid back, you know? I always just go with the flow, pretty chill — yeah, I just like to joke a lot.
PI: So would you say you are more introverted or extroverted?
EJ: I would say once I get to know you I am extroverted, but off rip I am a little shy. But once I get to know people I am really outgoing.
PI: Who’s someone you look up to in life?
EJ: I look up to my mom, that's who I look up to. I look up to my mom and then my grandpa.
PI: You mentioned your mom, earlier, but what makes you look up to your grandfather?
EJ: He came here when he was about 14 from Jamaica, and just pretty much came over with just his family and made a life for himself and his kids. I feel like that is a great accomplishment. That's my guy *laughs*.
PI: What is it that you truly love about basketball?
EJ: I just like competing, and then in basketball I feel like I can put a little bit of my flare on it. I feel like basketball is a game of expression, you can really express yourself through basketball, and I feel like that's how I could express myself pretty well. So that's why I feel like I fell in love with it, I just love playing basketball.
PI: If you had one hashtag to describe yourself, what would that be?
EJ: Probably like, *laughs*, I don’t know, probably like, #Chill or something like that. It’s just an inside joke that me and my teammates got.
PI: What are some of your interests off the court? Any unique hobbies?
EJ: Oh yeah, when I'm home I fish with my friends, so we'll just go outside and fish when it's warm. We’ll go into the city, we’ll go to like a steakhouse or something like that. What else…and then I like watching movies, I like movies a lot, like Quentin Tarantino movies.
PI: What are your favorite Tarantino movies?
EJ: I like the Hateful Eight, Pulp Fiction, and…what was that third one, it was Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
PI: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
EJ: Yeah, that was crazy, I like that one a lot.
PI: What does ‘success’ mean to you?
EJ: Success to me just means being able to help the people that helped you get to the point where you're at. I feel like once you help other people and push other people to be better in every single aspect of life, I feel like that's when you've been successful.
PI: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
EJ: Five years from now, I see myself playing in the NBA, being able to get my mom a house, and you know, just helping people that helped me get to that point.
PI: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
EJ: Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
PI: At the end of the day, what do you hope to be remembered for?
EJ: It's gotta be for something cool… *laughs*, I don't know, probably like the first guy to play Xbox while skydiving, something like that, I don’t know. *laughs*.
To watch the full interview with Elmarko, click here.