Frank Jackson was 12 years old when he first arrived in the small city of Lehi, UT. After growing up in the Washington DC area and spending two years in Hood River, OR, the Jackson family made the move to the Beehive State, where Frank’s mom, Juleen, is from.
“As a kid, I always felt like an outsider,” Jackson tells SLAM. “I was always moving. I was never the coach’s son. I was always the kid from out of town.”
Still, it didn’t take long for Jackson to be introduced to Lehi’s basketball community. A gym nearby (just north of Thanksgiving Point) called “Open Court” was one of the go-to spots for top players in Utah. The building would later be renamed “Flash Factory” after Brandt Anderson, owner of the NBA D-League’s Utah Flash, who purchased it in 2008 and made it the team’s practice facility.
Jackson, who plays for the Jazz’s new G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars and reportedly just signed a 10 day contract with the team, has fond memories of watching the Flash back then. “I would go to those games,” he recalls. “I thought they were the coolest things ever.”
It was in Lehi where Jackson’s game really took off. “Kids like to compete out here,” Jackson says, “and they’ll do anything to win. You see kids busting their tails every day trying to be the best that they can be.” That passion resonated with the fiercely competitive Jackson, who always had a chip on his shoulder. “Everywhere I moved, you [had to] prove yourself,” he adds. “And that, to me, was awesome.”
Following a stellar freshman year at Lehi High School, Jackson transferred to Lone Peak High School in Highland to join a highly regarded hoops program. There, head coach Quincy Lewis helped push Jackson to another level, and soon the 6-3 guard was one of the top recruits in the nation. He committed to Duke in September of 2015 and proceeded to have a historic senior season, winning Utah Mr. Basketball and being named a McDonald’s All-American. He finished his high school career with 2,079 total points, which ranked sixth in state history. A few months later, Jackson was off to Durham. And about a year after that, he was headed to the NBA, drafted 31st overall by the Charlotte Hornets and quickly traded to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Since 2017, Jackson has bounced around the NBA, signing deals with the Pelicans, Thunder, Pistons and Suns. Of course, he was already accustomed to a life on the move—adjusting to new cities, meshing with new teammates, proving himself in new environments—because of his childhood. Utah has always been home, though, and when the opportunity to return presented itself, Jackson jumped at it.
After he was waived by the Suns in October, the first person Jackson talked to was Jazz CEO Danny Ainge. “The first thought that pops into your head is playing in places that you’ve grown up in,” Jackson says, “and [where] you have people that love you and have supported you—just to be able to be a part of that and a part of the community that I was raised in.” He and Ainge agreed it was an ideal fit.
As a member of the Salt Lake City Stars, the 24-year-old has dominated the G League so far, averaging a team-high 22.4 points on 46 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three. For the kid who always felt like an outsider, there is comfort in being so close to Lehi, to the Flash Factory, to Lone Peak, to the beautiful mountains.
“I can breathe that mountain air and just chill,” Jackson says. “It’s been a blessing to be back in a place that I call home.”
Photos via Getty Images.
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