In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight contributor John Ross pulls back the curtain and examines Jackson Shelstad, who will cap off a legendary high school career as a member of Team USA at the Nike Hoop Summit on April 8:
“Can Jackson Shelstad play in the NBA?”
I sat in the bleachers at the Les Schwab Invitational when Jackson’s trainer, Jacob Begin, asked me the question. After working 15 seasons in Basketball Operations with the Portland Trail Blazers and working with USA Basketball for the 2008 Nike Hoop Summit with players like Jrue Holiday and DeMar DeRozan, I responded, “I love his game but he just doesn’t have the size. There’s around one guy a year his size (undersized combo guard) that makes it.”
Jacob didn’t respond. He acknowledged my response and turned back to watch the game. He knew something I didn’t. Something I would get an explanation for as the week unfolded.
The list of guards coming out of the state of Oregon is rich — from Danny Ainge to Damon and Salim Stoudamire, Terrell Brandon, Terrence Ross, Kyle Singler, Dan Dickau, Luke Jackson, and most recently Payton Pritchard.
When Jackson was in third grade, he started watching Payton Pritchard. And when Payton was a freshman at the University of Oregon, Jackson, then a fifth grader, began showing up at his workouts. Jackson shared, “I saw how hard he worked every day. I learned what it takes.”
The relationship is mutual and continued to grow through the years with Payton even coming back to Oregon to watch Jackson and West Linn in the Oregon 6A State Finals. “He’s like a brother to me. He surprised me at the State Tourney,” Jackson shared. Payton shared the same sentiments, “that’s like my little brother, I’ve known him forever.”
Payton elaborated, “he’s taking his own path. A lot of guys compare him to me. But he’s writing his own story. I can’t wait to match up with him in the pros.”
As Jackson prepared for the State Finals, I went to one of his morning workouts. I walked away thinking, he’s already a pro. 10 A.M. workouts every day with his trainer followed by a workout with his personal trainer before doing some online schooling and then heading to his team’s practice. On the other side of the court, Lake Oswego star Winters Grady is working out. Prep stars aren’t made by accident. They’re putting in the work.
Jackson stepped on the court to begin the workout and Jacob whipped a pass to him at 15 feet. Swish. Swish. Swish. One-dribble pull-up, swish, swish, swish. Between-the-legs step-back, swish, swish, finally rims one out. Dribble drives through chairs and a ‘stick’ defender. Crossovers, reverses. Moves out to the three-point line — nope — not the high school line, the NBA three-point line. Jackson tells me he doesn’t practice the high school line, he’ll shoot them in games, but he works out at the NBA line. He hits 9 of 10 before stepping back a few feet further into Dame range…bottom of net, swish. The last time I’d seen a player hit this many shots at that pace with that much ease was when I was rebounding for Dame and CJ at the Trail Blazers Practice Facility.
This past summer, Jackson attended Lillard’s Formula Zero Camp which states, “This community is not for everyone. It exists only for those that have an obsessive and relentless passion to do things differently.” If a camp was made for Jackson, this describes him perfectly.
He shared: “It was my favorite camp I’ve been to. Dame was involved with everything we did — from the meetings to the workouts. I’ve learned from Dame’s mindset and worth ethic, his mentality. His demeanor on the court, he’s out there to kill. You see it in his face.”
I texted one of the coaches at the camp and asked if he worked with Jackson at all…he responded, “STUD!!!” And then added, “ever since I saw him with Portland Generals last year (Nike Hoop Summit), I was like, who’s that?! The kid is on the Payton Pritchard plan.”
“What drives you?” I asked Jackson. “Since I started playing, I was really competitive. I watched older players like Payton Pritchard. His work ethic and where he’s taken it. I watch dudes who are working like that. It’s work.” A theme that continued to resound through my conversations with Jackson, work ethic.
“I started working with Steve Blake during COVID, at his gym. He took my game to another level. We’d go every day, sometimes twice a day. We’d play one-on-one.” He continued: “I learned a ton from Steve. He’s like Yoda. I was good and he took me to another level. Every day, I’d learn something new. All we did was NBA-style workouts. He instilled confidence in me. We connected so well because we share a hard-working mentality.”
Jackson doesn’t talk about being inspired by highlights or statistical domination. He talks about work ethic. Whether it’s his parents, his trainer, or the players he looks up to: “I’ve been surrounded by people who are grinders. My parents have been on me about working and being in the gym. They knew I wanted to play college hoops. Steve and Payton, both six-foot guards in the League. They know what it takes. I’ve seen it first-hand. Jacob wants it as much as I do. He’s in the gym all of the time with me.”
“I started working out a lot when I was young but it became routine, every day, around fifth grade. You don’t just go to the gym to go to the gym. You gotta go hard. My freshman year, I started to get some dog in me. Don’t play around when you’re in the gym. Work. Don’t waste time. Put your work in."
Lake Oswego Head Coach and Assistant Coach of the Hoop Summit World Team, Marshall Cho, added, “he’s been talented since he was a kid but has been really grounded. What’s been super impressive, credit his parents, he is super humble. It’s impressive how he put the work in. You’d think maybe his development would tap out but he just kept working, kept getting better.”
Both of Jackson’s parents played sports in college and have offered Jackson unwavering support. “Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing,” said Jackson. “We travel around the country for basketball. They stay on me about school, about being a good person, things outside of basketball.”
I asked about long-term goals and the first thing he mentioned was, “I try to be the best person I can be. Stick to who I am. Work hard at what I do. Inspire others around me. I want to play in the NBA. Not just make it. I want to stick around.” An impressive perspective for a high-schooler, speaking to character, work, and giving back before mentioning the NBA. Again, a professional, someone who understands what it will take to get to the NBA. “Little kids in the West Linn community come up to me and tell me they’re looking up to me. They ask for pictures and send me messages on social media. It’s pretty cool to know that I can inspire young kids. I try to show them the best example. I try to be a good example and have good character.”
He continued: “leadership is something I can improve. I’m on the quiet side but this year, I’ve started to evolve and get better at that. I’m maturing, I’m getting on guys, making sure we’re all going hard. At the LSI, I helped my teammates believe we would beat those dudes. When guys see me going hard every day, they follow.”
Jacob Begin added, “when you get to know him, he’s more outspoken, will talk sh*t. Highly competitive. The rankings fuel him. He gets labeled as ‘the next Pritchard,’ but they’re two totally separate guys. He’s not looking to be the next Pritchard but he lives in the legacy of a guy ranked low who wants to be that guy. He’s on a mission and this isn’t the finish line.”
“What is the mission?” I ask. “He wants to be an NBA player. We don’t talk about it. But we’re gonna die trying (to get to the NBA). Having a passion worth dying for — if you never achieve it but died trying, it’s worth the fight.”
“Can Jackson Shelstad play in the NBA?”
Looking back, I see Jacob’s lack of response as a…just you wait and see.
Three games later, Jackson Shelstad and West Linn had taken down Bronny James, a young Hardaway, a young Pippen, and projected NBA top-10 pick Ron Holland. West Linn defeating national powerhouses was impressive. But what I was drawn to was the one person not celebrating.
I don’t think anyone in those gyms thought West Linn had a realistic chance of winning the tournament.
What I saw in Jackson wasn’t someone who thought his team had a chance, I saw someone who knew they would win it.
“I’ve played with all these guys. I’m on the same level. Why would I be scared?” Jackson told me.
There was no need to celebrate knocking off the #1 team in the country. He expected that. And when I saw that, I changed my answer.
As fans stormed the court with shouts of jubilee…Jackson remained stoic.
He knew it.
He expected it.
Some guys tell everyone they’re “him,” they’re “the one,” they’re “next,” and some guys just know it.
“Can Jackson play in the NBA?”
Only one guy makes it a year at his size.
And he’s the one.
He’s Oregon’s Next.
You can find more articles by John Ross, here.