Canzano: Oregon Ducks prized commit Jackson Shelstad doesn't let the madness get to him
State's best basketball player is locked in at UO.
Jackson Shelstad tells me he’ll be at Moda Center for Thursday’s opening round NCAA Tournament games.
UCLA and Gonzaga will be there, too.
The Oregon Ducks — the university the four-star West Linn High School point guard committed to last November. The junior guard told me this week he remains “100 percent committed” to playing for Dana Altman.
“I thought they had good talent,” he said of UO’s season. “There’s some dudes that had injuries and weren’t on the court at the same time. They played hard. It was always like they played better against higher-ranked teams.”
Shelstad, 16, is the most gifted high school basketball player in the state. His coach, Eric Viuhkola, told me that he believes Shelstad could have played football, baseball or lacrosse and earned all-state honors in any of them.
“Jax is the best athlete I’ve ever coached,” Viuhkola said. “He’s got Allen Iverson athleticism. He is so quick, explosive, has unbelievable body balance and eye hand coordination.”
Everyone wants to make a Payton Pritchard comparison. It’s a natural leap. They played for the same high school coach, wore the same No. 3 West Linn High jersey and have worked out together for years. But they’re very different point guards.
“Sorry not going to do the comparison,” Viuhkola said. “They both absolutely hate it.”
Shelstad and Pritchard are gym rats who share a work ethic and a zip code growing up. Let’s leave it at that. The high school basketball season ended last Friday, for example. Shelstad showed up in the gymnasium at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning for a workout. Then, he came back the next day, same time.
Said Viuhkola: “He’s been coming into the high school gym four days a week at 6:30 a.m. since he was a fourth grader.”
Portland drew a terrific pool of NCAA Tournament games. Gonzaga is the No. 1 overall seed in the bracket. UCLA is coming off a Final Four season. Saint Mary’s, Memphis and Boise State are all interesting and capable of advancing. But it’s Shelstad I thought about this week because I wonder how long it will be until we see him lead the Ducks on a deep tournament run.
Dana Altman coached the Ducks in an NIT game on Tuesday night. A few days earlier after a Pac-12 Tournament loss in Las Vegas the UO coach said: “We've tried to set a standard at Oregon that we try to meet and I just felt like for the first time in a long time we didn't meet that standard."
I left the conversation with Shelstad knowing he’s locked in at Oregon. I’m now eager to see how far a home-grown player might one day help carry the UO program. And I gained an appreciation for what highly-recruited high school basketball players endure.
“It got pretty stressful,” he said.
Jackson’s father, Darin, told me, “It was overwhelming. There were times there would be 10-plus calls a day. Texts, calls, a lot of Zoom calls. I was overwhelmed. If Jackson was working out and didn’t immediately reply to a text the coach might call me and ask, ‘Is everything ok with Jackson?’
“I’d tell him, ‘Yeah, he’s working out.’ It’s tough. You start building relationships with these coaches and schools. They’re really good at (recruiting). It was wild for a long time.”
The younger Shelstad had UCLA and Gonzaga among his finalists.
“Jackson was really intrigued by UCLA,” his father said. “We thought it was UCLA for a while. I really think it was a relationship with coach Altman and wanting to be the hometown guy. The whole, ‘This is the place for you’ pitch. That ultimately ended up winning.”
Jackson Shelstad had a terrific junior season. He carried his team to the state 6A semifinals despite every opponent game-planning to stop him.
“Everybody wants to come out and lock me down,” he said.
Thursday, he’ll get to watch some great college basketball up close. After that, there are plans for a family spring break trip to Palm Springs. Then, it will be offseason workouts and Shelstad will play in a handful of tournaments as part of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. Pritchard will be home from the NBA season in the summer and the plan is for the two to work out together every day.
Said Jackson: “He’s shown me what it takes to get to the next level.”