Can 5-star GG Jackson lead USC Gamecocks to March Madness?

South Carolina men’s basketball saw an immediate boost to its NCAA tournament hopes with the Saturday commitment of five-star power forward G.G. Jackson.

But how much of a boost can be expected from a player who will likely play one college season and then be a top draft pick in next year’s NBA Draft?

Here’s a look at how Jackson will fit in on South Carolina’s 2022-23 roster under first-year coach Lamont Paris, plus a rundown of how other top recruits fared in their “one-and-done” seasons at schools that are not traditional college basketball powers.

How Jackson fits at South Carolina

Jackson should immediately become the focal point of USC’s team, and fans should expect much of the team’s game plan to revolve around getting the ball in his hands.

At 6-foot-9, 210 pounds, Jackson is a long, dynamic athlete who can change direction quickly, explode to the basket and shoot from multiple spots on the floor. He’ll need to add weight to his frame as he adjusts to the next level, but he should start at forward from Day One.

The roster around Jackson is much more of a question mark, with USC losing its entire starting lineup to either graduation or the transfer portal.

Paris and his new staff have tapped into the portal to flesh out the team, adding experience in the form of The Citadel forward Hayden Brown and Coastal Carolina guard Ebrima Dibba. Meanwhile, speedy guard Meechie Johnson (Ohio State) and big man Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (Illinois) both were once highly touted recruits who didn’t catch on at their former schools. The coaching staff is betting on its ability to tap into the potential of both players.

None of those transfers have the upside of Jackson, who is one of three freshmen the Gamecocks will have on the roster this season along with guards Daniel Hankins-Sanford and Zachary Davis. What USC lacks in experience, it will make up for in size — all three of those freshmen stand 6-foot-8 or taller, and 7-foot forward Josh Gray is one of the team’s few holdovers from last year’s squad.

The Gamecocks have made just one NCAA tournament appearance in the past decade — 2017’s Final Four run. Even with Jackson in the fold, it could still be a steep climb for the Gamecocks to get there.

USC is coming off an 18-13 season, but with a brand new roster and coaching staff, there’s no telling how quickly the team will jell.

Anthony Edwards (5) was a star in his one season at Georgia, but the Bulldogs went 16-16 in 2019-20. John Amis Associated Press

Recent history: Anthony Edwards and more

Three years ago, it was a different top five national recruit who made national news in staying home to revitalize a local SEC basketball program.

Jackson’s situation bears plenty of similarities to that of five-star 2019 recruit Anthony Edwards, who turned down national powers to spend a one-and-done year at Georgia.

Edwards, who grew up in Atlanta, was unsurprisingly dominant for the Bulldogs. He averaged a team-high 19.1 points per game, shot 40.2% from the field and racked up highlight plays en route to becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

But Edwards’ otherworldly athleticism, now on display for the Minnesota Timberwolves, wasn’t enough to lift Georgia out of the SEC’s basement. Coach Tom Crean’s Bulldogs went 16-16 in 2019-20 and finished 13th in the conference at 5-13.

In other words: Individual talent isn’t always enough.

Class of 2016 No. 5 recruit Markelle Fultz was lights out as a Washington freshman in 2016-17 (23.2 ppg, 5.9 apg, 5.7 rpg), but the Huskies were 9-22 and 2-16 in the Pac-12.

LSU made a strong push in 2015-16 with No. 1 recruit Ben Simmons (19.2 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 4.8 apg) leading the way but was ultimately left out of the tournament at 19-14 (11-7 SEC).

That didn’t damage either five-star recruit’s NBA Draft stock, though, as the Philadelphia 76ers picked Simmons first overall in 2016 and Fultz first overall in 2017.

Cade Cunningham
Cade Cunningham helped Oklahoma State reach the NCAA tournament. Mitch Alcala Associated Press

No. 1 2020 recruit Cade Cunningham, meanwhile, was a one-and-done success story at Oklahoma State. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as the Cowboys reached the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed and advanced to the Round of 32.

The Detroit Pistons drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall in 2021.

No. 3 recruit Michael Beasley in the 2007 class also paired college success with draft success, leading the Wildcats to the second round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed before being drafted second overall in 2008.

This story was originally published July 23, 2022 6:00 PM.

Michael Lananna specializes in Gamecocks athletics and storytelling projects for The State. Featured in Best American Sports Writing 2018, Lananna covered college baseball nationally before moving to Columbia in 2020. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2014 with a degree in journalism.
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Chapel Fowler has covered Clemson football, among other topics, for The State since June 2022. He’s a Denver, N.C., native, a 2020 UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and a pickup basketball enthusiast with previous stops at the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer and Chatham (N.C.) News + Record. His work has been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors, the North Carolina Press Association and the Associated College Press.

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