No words, just a GIF of “The Office” character, Dwight Schrute, nodding, “It’s time.” Posted by Jaren Jackson Jr.
This series was a dream come true for the 22-year-old brothers who six years ago were in their Indiana middle school dorm room charting visions of playing in the NBA one day.
“We’ve been talking about this forever,” Jackson said. “We used to joke that – because he didn’t really like playing defense like that – the team he was good at was the Warriors.”
But do you play against each other in the playoff stage? This was a goal the couple could never have imagined.
The play-off bliss of two old friends was interrupted by the tension between their teams due to a plethora of blatant fouls, restrictions, costly injuries and suspensions. Paul got into the drama when Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said he hurt Memphis star Ja Morant’s knee in game three.
The truth is, none of the toxicity really bothered them. Look closely and you’ll catch Jackson and Paul on the field together, trying to lighten the mood.
“Stop polluting! You can’t stay on the field!” Paul shouted at Jackson from the bench as he consulted with the referees during the first game.
Jackson couldn’t help but smile.
It all comes from the bond Shane Hermann, their coach at La Lumiere Prep, saw as a teenager.
“For their ability to be competitive and have a good time, they both have tremendous personalities,” said Hermann, who is now an assistant head coach at Central Michigan. “Every day they bring energy to court.”
Jackson, the son of ex-war veteran Garen Jackson Sr., moved from Park Tudor in Indianapolis to La Lumiere in his final year as one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits: a five-star, 6-foot-11 phenomenon. Coming soon to Michigan.
From Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, Paul moved to “LaLu” while preparing for college football in Michigan. In addition to Jackson, he has teamed up with five-star recruits Tiger Campbell (UCLA) and Brian Bowen (League J). They went 29-1 and now beat Knicks guard RJ Barrett and the Monteverde Academy to win the national title.
“We were kind of like a cheat code,” Paul said.
Despite all their success together, they have grown the most by playing against each other.
LaLu’s strict curfew meant lights were out at 8:30 p.m. By 9 p.m., the two roommates were sneaking out.
With a butter knife stolen from the school cafeteria, they’d opt to unlock the school gym, appear on the album’s latest release—think Lil Uzi Vert and J. Cole—and play one-on-one through late into the night. They couldn’t move a muscle.
Heirman said he was proud of them for breaking the rules at La Lumiere.
“They’ve sealed this place tight, so you have to be very creative to get there,” Hermann said.
Stuck indoors in rural Indiana, the empty gym one chose to lock in was heaven. Paul said these sessions were “the highlight of my football career”.
“LaLu was nowhere. It was a culture shock.” All we did was play basketball because we were bored. We couldn’t drive or go anywhere on campus… When the guys got tired, we’d go home and sleep and get up and do it again.”
At that LaLu gym, Paul said he developed his touch around the edge that added precious dynamism to the Warriors’ goals today.
Jackson stands close to 7 feet tall. At 6-foot-4, Paul had to find insidious ways to score against his teammate one-on-one. So he learned how to change his tempo and find different ways through the track, how to find fast passes, use a feathery touch on high-glass runs and get into bigger players’ bodies.
“Garen is a big reason why my last match was so strong,” Paul said. “We played one-on-one, and when I figured out how to score against opponents that are taller and more top athletes, he was the prototype.”
As the primary defender during those one-on-one sessions, Jackson bore the brunt of Paul’s growth.
“He still does a lot of the same things,” Jackson said. “I just try to make it difficult for him. He has become a much better player than he was at the time.”
If there’s one thing Hermann remembers about Jackson and Paul’s friendship, it’s the budding friendly rivalry. Paul tried in vain to persuade Jackson to come to Michigan with him, but Jackson set his sights on the Tom Izu program. Soon the flags of the competing schools were hanging on the opposite walls of their LaLu dorm room. Dirty talk ensued.
“They had friendly banter all day and it was down to earth,” Hermann said.
Now facing each other in this playoff, Jackson and Paul were two emerging stars.
Paul averages 23 points per game in this series and shoots 37% of 3. His most impactful points were penetrating the paint, rolling the ball over defenders like Jackson – when Jackson couldn’t get it. Jackson averages 20.3 points and set the Warriors on fire in Game 1, hitting those three six and collecting 10 rebounds.
“We knew we were going to make it to the league,” Paul said. “We didn’t know we’d be together in the Western Conference, let alone play together in the playoffs. As corny as it sounds, we used to dream about it.”