Updated: Jun 11, 2022
6’9” Jaxon Kohler, the hyper-skilled Utah native, has committed to Michigan State University. After a productive EYBL session this summer where he showed out of Strive For Greatness (CA), more coaches started taking notice, including the Spartans’ staff. His blend of finesse, power, touch, production, improving perimeter skills, and work ethic should make him a seamless fit in Michigan State’s program.
After a productive season for American Fork High School (UT) as a junior, Kohler opted to take his talents to Southern California Academy to focus on development and to take advantage of a national schedule. In preparation for college, Kohler is working hard to fine tune his shooting, lateral quickness, dribbling, and passing prior to getting to campus. Expect him to continue opening eyes as he faces other top prospects throughout the country on the Grind Session, this season.
Pro Insight’s Tyler Glazier spoke with the newest Spartan.
Pro Insight: Off the top, how did you get to where you are today?
Jaxon Kohler: So ever since I was a little kid I’ve always dreamed of being an NBA basketball player. My parents taught me that that goal takes a lot of hard work, and since second grade I’ve never had any doubts on how hard it was going to be or what it was going to take. Being taller than everyone else showed me that I have to play the big man position, so naturally I tried to learn from the best players that there were in the NBA. So I started watching Hakeem Olajuwon’s footwork and post moves because I thought that would be a perfect fit for my game. Every day after school I would run home, go on YouTube, look at his highlights, write down his moves, and then go outside and do the exact same thing and practice them until I felt really comfortable. I would do that for so long to the point that when a game would come around I would be able to do it in a game and have it feel just as comfortable. Ever since then, I’ve just polished and perfected my post-up game to this day. Now that some of these kids are growing to be 7’0” tall I thought, “O.K., I might not be the biggest dude on the court anymore, but I can still affect the game in other ways,” like by setting picks to pop out and shoot the 3 or run down the court or rebounding, playing defense, etc. — all of the small stuff coaches look for. Lately I’ve been trying to expand my game to be more of a shooter and perimeter player. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job at doing that at Southern California Academy, but I think something people should know about me is that I’m a post player, every game I give it 110%, I never complain, I want to be that guy that helps the team win, and I want to play the right way.
PI: How did you come to fall in love with the game of basketball?
JK: Honestly it was my dad; he’s my role model and I’ve just been trying to follow him since I was a little kid. He played basketball when he was younger and he thought basketball would be something that he and I could share — something we could have fun with and have it be a father-and-son type of thing. But once I started playing and experiencing the game for myself I really started falling in love with the game just like he did. So being a little kid I’d always go watch film of him when he was younger and be in awe. Then watching NBA players play, it wasn’t very hard for me to fall in love with basketball.
PI: Describe your game — what are some of your strengths on the court?
JK: I would say the biggest strengths are my post-up game, my back to the basket post-up game as well as my hustle. I feel like every game I give it 110%, running down the floor all of the time, playing defense, and just playing hard. Those are my two biggest strengths I’d say. I’m working on becoming more of a perimeter player and more of a shooter. I am a good shooter, but that’s something I can improve on. Overall, the biggest strengths I have are my hustle and down low on-the-block post moves.
PI: What are you looking to improve before getting to the college level?
JK: Mainly it’s becoming more of a 4-man that can play every position. I want to make sure that I’m a stretch-4 who can be a big man. I want to be a stretch-4 that can also play as a 3 with my shooting ability. I want to make sure I can work on my defense so when a ball screen happens at the college level I can guard a guard. I want to make sure that there are no liabilities when I’m on the floor. I don’t want it to be, “oh, he’s bad at defense so attack him.” I want to make sure I’m fully prepared perimeter-wise, post-wise, and physically, too. I need to work on my body and get in the weight room, too. I think those are some of the things I need to work on before getting to college.
PI: What are some underrated aspects of your game?
JK: Some of the things people might not know about me or don’t see it as much is that I can shoot the ball. I can attack the basket a little bit. I can also dribble the ball a little bit. I’ve been in the gym a lot this past month working on my ball-handling and I feel like that’s something I hope I can be able to showcase, but when you’re a big man it’s kind of hard to showcase that even if you’re good at it. I want people to know that I can handle the ball and pass the ball, that I am like an all-around player. I can make the good plays, get assists, complete plays, and get other guys open and possibly be a triple-double kind of guy, like [Nikola] Jokic.
PI: You’ve had quite the high school journey up to this point, having played for some high level programs throughout the past three years. Can you share a bit about what your biggest takeaways were at Wasatch, Coronado, and American Fork?
JK: Man high school has been a remarkable journey. Starting at Wasatch Academy, going in as a freshman right after the CP3 camp and being one of the best middle schoolers in the country I definitely got humbled [laughs]. I definitely got humbled. Mady Sissoko was there, he’s [currently] a great center at Michigan State, he definitely humbled me by just blocking my shot every time even after I gave him a couple pump fakes. It was something where I had to put my head down and accept that I wasn’t the best player anymore. I had to start from the bottom and work my way to the top. I had to work so hard every day for just like a minute of playing time in an actual varsity game. And it was understandable, I didn’t complain because I knew Wasatch Academy was such a good team at the time. They were a national team and we went to GEICO Nationals, so I was playing against that level of competition every day. Looking back on it I wouldn’t have done my freshman year differently. I am so thankful for all of the opportunities and all of the experiences I had with that Wasatch Academy team.
Going into my sophomore year I was trying to go back to my hometown of American Fork High School, but there was a rule that said I wasn’t allowed to do that without skipping a year of eligibility. So we were like, “well, now what do we do?” Because with the distance of Wasatch Academy I think I was just too young at the time and it wasn’t a good fit for our family. So we had some guys from Vegas who called who were with Jaden Hardy. So I was like “O.K., this will be another good thing. Still keep a national schedule and be on a pretty good team.” So we were like, “O.K., let’s go to Vegas.” The whole family moved out of Utah and we were upbeat about it and to try something new. Vegas was great: good people, great experiences, and trying something different. Unfortunately it wasn’t what we were looking for, but after the season COVID-19 hit and that sent us in the direction of “O.K., we’re going to move back home to Utah.” We were able to find a house in Lehi, Utah and we were like, “O.K., we can finally go where we tried to go in the first place which was American Fork [High School].” Since I went to Vegas and back that was O.K., eligibility-wise.
I finally got to American Fork and they didn’t cancel their season at all due to COVID-19. The COVID-19 numbers out here were low and they didn’t allow any fans. It was great to be with my friends and go through a new experience where they would circle around me. I loved every minute of it, I loved the coaches, I loved the players, it was a great time. But going into my senior year and going to Peach Jam I knew that if I really wanted to get better and ready for college I had to go somewhere where they could develop me before college. No disrespect to American Fork High School, but I didn’t think I could finish out my high school career there. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to play against the best competition every day and it’s not that Utah doesn’t have good competition, it’s just that they might not get onto the national schedule as much as these other places.
So when SCA offered what they are trying to do, I’ve known Coach Julius V since I was maybe in elementary school. I used to play against his AAU teams as a kid and we’ve been in contact ever since. So when he started his program he called me a couple times and was like, “we need you on this team.” I went back and forth like, “maybe not, maybe so. Maybe this is a good fit, maybe not.” It wasn’t until Peach Jam where I was playing against the best competition in AAU where I was like, “I have to take this. I have to take this opportunity at Southern California Academy.” AAU is hard, but college is going to be worse. There’s competition every day and not only is it going to be the best competition, but everyone is going to be giving 100% and guys who are really good giving their 100% are going to be scary. So I have to make sure that I’m going to be one of those dudes and I thought SCA could provide that for me.
PI: How has the Strive For Greatness program helped develop you on and off the court?
JK: I can confidently say that Strive For Greatness is something I’ll never forget and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They were so good to me and it was another situation where I had to go in and make sure I showed everyone that I deserved to be there. Because when you think of SFG, you think of all of the best players and LeBron [James] and they bring in the best guys. So I had to make sure that I played hard enough to be one of those best players. I think SFG taught me how to do the little things that most people don’t, like hustling for rebounds, running the floor, etc. Because all of these good players, they’re good, but sometimes they might not do the little stuff because they don’t think they have to. They think their skill will make up for it, and that’s fine, but I wanted to make sure that I stand out on a team of standouts. So SFG really taught me how to work harder than some of these great players that you see on Instagram and all of that stuff. You stay in the gym, first one in, last one out. They taught me how to outwork them and I’m happy I was able to be a part of that program. Getting to be part of that system and I wouldn’t have switched any other AAU team for it.
PI: Did LeBron share any advice with you?
JK: Yeah, he was an excellent teacher. I mean it’s no question why he’s the best player in the league right now. Any time I’d ask him a question or ask him what I should do in the post, he was so detailed about it and gave such great answers. I wish I would’ve asked him more questions. He taught me to be strong with the ball, don’t try to pre-predict your moves and he told me something that I’ll never forget…”these guys might not pass to you, but don’t let that bother you. You should still get 10-15 points on this team regardless because they miss shots and you get offensive rebounds. They might not throw it to you one time all game and you can still get 15 points just by getting offensive rebounds and putting it back in.” When I thought about that, that was something I was like, “man, thank you” because that was the challenging part about being on that team. Especially AAU in general, teams don’t really use big men a lot, especially ones that play down low with their back to the basket. Which is fine, but I enjoyed every second on that team so like I said I wouldn’t change it for anything and I’m happy I was able to get that close to LeBron and have him give me detailed answers, allowing me to ask him questions, etc. It was amazing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
PI: What are you most looking forward to about playing on The Grind Session with Southern California Academy, this season?
JK: To win. I’ve been in the gym with this SCA team for a month to month-and-a-half and I have never felt more confident in any of my high school teams than I do with this team. I can’t wait to go out there and show the world how good we are because Coach Julius V, he does a great job of getting guys to play hard and not play cool. Our practices are college-level and college-disciplined. I think we play the right way, we play hard and strong. The thing I was looking forward to the most when coming to SCA is what I’ve been doing for over a month now, which is the development. To me the games were just like a bonus and I’ve seen some of our schedule and I cannot wait. I’m counting down the hours and counting down the days.
PI: How surreal has it been to be getting all of this attention from college programs?
JK: Man these last two months have been crazy, but something my dad always told me...and this goes back from early on when I started out with basketball and is something I’ll never forget...he told me, “if you put in the work, results will always come. They may not come in the moment, but they will always come. Don’t ever doubt that.” So putting in the work I’ve known it would come sooner or later. COVID-19 kind of scared me a little bit, but I never lost faith in what my goal was and how I was going to execute it. So I kept trying and kept pushing. There were some times where I got down, but it wasn’t until Peach Jam where everything kind of blew up and I was so happy. But then it was kind of a moment of being careful what you wish for because now you have to call hundreds of people a day. You have a lot of colleges to think about and I never really thought about how hard that would be. I’m so happy that the last few months have been as intense as they were because I’m never going to have it again. It’s kind of these moments where you have to stand back out of the picture and realize how special the moment is and realize how special the opportunities are. Just kind of stand back and smell the flowers. That’s the approach that my parents and I are kind of taking. If you ever get too stressed out about these coaches just kind of step back out of the picture and realize how lucky you are.
PI: What were the most important factors in your college decision?
JK: Some of the most important ones were somewhere where they could develop me and where they could use me as not just being a big man like on SFG like rebounding, rim running, defense, etc. Somewhere where they could use all of my talents and apply it to their offense. Another one, and this is probably one of the biggest ones, is just winning. Making it to the Final Four, to the NCAA Tournament, and winning championships. So guys in the program, the coaches, the history, etc. were some other big things because I wanted to make sure that the world could see me at that college.
PI: Who did you turn to for guidance during the process?
JK: Through this whole process I’ve had a very tight circle: it was me, my mom, and my dad.
PI: What sort of advice did they give you?
JK: They were amazing about it. They told me all of the time, “this is your decision and we support you no matter what you do. We’ll be at every game and support you no matter what.” I’m really happy it got to be like my choice and they are 110% on board with it. They’ve been really smart about trying to find out the small and big details. Like what they aren’t telling me, but are telling them. I think they’ve been great with that.
PI: Without further adieu, where will you be attending college?
JK: I, Jaxon Kohler, will be attending Michigan State University starting next year.
PI: What set Michigan State apart? What made them different from the rest of your options?
JK: Yeah, I got on the visit and it just clicked. I met with Coach Izzo and felt a really good connection with the coaches, players, fan base, and general energy. I feel like that kind of matched my whole personality. I don’t think there’s a better way to say it, but that whole place and energy matched my personality. It’s a really nice place. Coach Izzo also matches my personality: he’s a really funny guy, happy and smiling off the court, but on the court he does not take anything lightly. He takes it 110% and demands almost perfection. He plays hard, plays dirty, and has a swag to it. I think that’s how I play. I think I play with a swag and I try to puff my chest out on the court. I play hard. I play mean. I play dirty. I take crap from no one and I think Michigan State matches my personality perfectly.
PI: Were you on campus for alumni week when guys like Draymond Green, and Jaren Jackson, Jr, were in town?
JK: That was the weekend of my visit. That was another thing that stood out to me when I was out there, that all of these people love to come back. They always love to come back to support Coach Izzo or fund money to the weight room or gyms. They love coming to Michigan State. There were a lot of things that really popped out about that program and that was one of them — how even though they go to the NBA, they still love to get back to East Lansing.
PI: What was Coach Izzo’s reaction when you told him?
JK: He popped out a bottle of champagne and started partying [laughs]. I’m just kidding, he was as happy as I was and he can’t wait to get this thing rolling.
PI: Did you get to know any of the current or former Michigan State players during the recruiting process?
JK: I got to know them a lot. I got to hang out with them off the court. I got to play against them in open gyms. I got to be around them, especially for the football game. They genuinely seem like great guys who have a great relationship with one another. I think in high school players like each other, but they secretly have their own agendas of trying to make it to the next level by outbeating each other. The thing about Michigan State is they all support each other, they’re all trying to lift each other up, do the best for each other, and always have each other's backs. That was something that really stood out to me.
PI: Your former Wasatch Academy teammate Mady Sissoko, who you mentioned earlier, is currently on the team — did he share advice or insight with you throughout the process?
JK: Yeah, he was really awesome about it. It was awesome seeing him again after so many years. The first thing I told him was just like, “thank you for beating me all the time in practice because it paid off in so many ways.” He just showed me what a daily life would be like: classes, basketball, hanging out with people, and especially in reference to Coach Izzo — that he’s going to be really hard on you at times, but he genuinely cares about you after practice and after games. That’s someone I really want — someone who takes things very seriously on the court, but who genuinely loves you off the court.
PI: What do you hope to bring to the program?
JK: I want to bring everything that Jaxon has to offer: be a hard-working, tough, mean, skilled player. Bring everything I have. I can’t wait to bring 120% to this program and try to make it to a Final Four and give it everything I’ve got. I think it’s a pretty short answer, just everything that I have. I’m ready to lay down my body and everything for this program because that’s what coaches need from all of their players — just to lay down everything.
PI: How do you see your role at the next level?
JK: I see my role as more of a stretch-4, maybe not so much as a 5. Someone who plays inside-out. Go inside a couple of times, knock down pick-and-pop threes, play defense, rebound, and just kind of all that. I don’t think my role will change very much.
PI: What will be your focus between now and when you get to campus?
JK: Man, just making sure that I’m a different player than who they saw on the visit. Making sure that everything I have is two times better than it was when I visited. That I’m taller than when I visited, stronger than when I visited, I can handle the ball better than when I visited, I can run the floor better, jump higher...just everything.
PI: Lastly, do you have any message for the Michigan State fans who are thrilled about your commitment?
JK: I just want to say thank you for every one of your guys' support and you guys are awesome. I can’t wait to be part of this program and to have you guys cheering me on. Go Green!