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Suns Summer League notes: Josh Jackson concentrates on basketball

The Phoenix Suns' Summer League team practices Tuesday. (Twitter photo/ @timringTV)

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Drafted, signed and now, finally, ready to play.

It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for forward Josh Jackson.

The Phoenix Suns made Jackson the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, signed the 20-year-old to his first professional contract and inserted him into the starting lineup when the Suns took to the practice court at Talking Stick Resort Arena for their first NBA Summer League practice on Tuesday.

“I’m just happy to finally get back to doing the only thing that really matters,” said Jackson, who signed a four-year rookie contract a day earlier.

Jackson joins fellow draft picks Davon Reed and Alec Peters plus current Suns players Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Mike James, Derrick Jones Jr. and Tyler Ulis on the Suns’ entry into the Las Vegas Summer League.

Peters (right foot) and Ulis (right ankle) are rehabbing injuries and will not play.

“I feel like it went pretty good today. I learned some new things, and hopefully, it will go even better tomorrow,” Jackson said. “I feel like we got some good talent on this team. I don’t think there’s a guy on this team who’s here for the wrong reasons. We all got a pretty clear mindset of what we’re here to do.”

While he admitted there’s a learning curve involved in making the jump from college to the pros, Jackson, who is considered the draft’s best two-way player, seemed to fit right in alongside his new teammates.

“So far so good,” Bender said. “He’s a hard-working guy. He came in and gave us a lot of energy in today’s first practice. It’s still early; it’s still early to say some things about him. It’s the first day but so far looking good.”

Marquese Chriss sees someone similar to him in terms of his edge on the court.

“He’s a competitor,” Chriss said. “I like that. He has a fire to him. He’s quiet when he’s mad, but I think it’ll help him in his career. I think he’s going to help our team in the long run.”

Jackson averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 35 games at Kansas, winning Big 12 Freshman of the Year plus inclusion on numerous All-America teams.

Numbers and accolades aside, Jackson has a big adjustment ahead of him.

“I think it’s kind of a culture shock,” Chriss said. “Going to Summer League, it’s a bunch of games consecutively. I mean it’s not different than the season, but I think coming off a college season and going into this, it’s different. You got to pace yourself and you got to stay hydrated and just kind of use your energy smart and not just kill yourself.”

The Suns are practicing five times over three days ahead of their first game on Friday against Sacramento.

“Definitely I want to improve on my body, eating habits, stuff like that,” Jackson said. “Just come out and try to get some team chemistry with the rest of the guys, especially the young guys on the team like Marquese, Tyler. I’ve been hanging out with them, getting to know them a little bit more. We’re all liking each other.”

WELCOME BACK JAMES

Two years ago, James scored 32 points for the Suns in the championship game at NBA Summer League 2015 in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, that was not enough to get him signed to an NBA roster.

James doesn’t have those same concerns this time around. He’s already under contract. The Suns signed the 26-year-old point guard for the upcoming 2017-18 season on Monday.

“It shows confidence in me. It shows that they want me to be here. That’s good to know. That’s good to have that feeling going into something,” he said. “It kind of takes—not the pressure, but it kind of puts you more at ease than going into it feeling like you got to prove something rather than just feeling like you should just get better and try to grow.”

Undrafted out of college, James has spent the last five seasons playing overseas, making stops in Croatia, Israel, Italy, Spain and most recently Greece.

“I just kept playing basketball. I kept getting paid for it. It’s better than having a regular job so I just kept playing and eventually I ended up here (in the NBA),” he said. “You always say you want to come here but you never really know what’s going to happen.”

ROOKIE HEAD COACH

Coming off his first season with the Suns as assistant coach and player development coordinator, Marlon Garnett will serve as the Suns’ Summer League head coach.

It’s his first-ever head coaching opportunity.

“This is big. This is development and growth for me,” he said. “I’m learning some things kind of on the go as well because I’ve never been in this position, but I’m excited about it and just embracing the opportunity. I can’t say enough thanks to the organization and Coach (Earl) Watson for entrusting me with this opportunity, so I’m going to go out—as I’ve always done even as a player—and do the best that I possibly can.”

Assistant Nate Bjorkgren had been the head coach the previous two years, leading the Suns to a 9-4 record and two final four appearances.

FREE THROWS

— Though he wore No. 11 in college, Jackson donned No. 99 for his first Suns practice.

“I picked it,” he said. “Just out of the numbers that I was given that one grabbed me the most, I guess.”

Jackson said he’s not sure about his number for the regular season. Guard Brandon Knight currently is the holder of the No. 11 Suns uniform.

— Having played all 82 games, including 75 starts, last season, Chriss may not suit up for the entire Las Vegas Summer League schedule.

“We’ll see. I don’t know,” he said, when asked how many games he expected to play. “I haven’t asked (and) they haven’t told (me) so just playing it by ear, so however many I play that’s however many I’ll be in.”

— The Suns have been quiet here in the first week of free agency. Their meeting with power forward Blake Griffin was canceled, and they passed on meeting with power forward Paul Millsap.

They did, however, re-up with long-time trainer Aaron Nelson, whose contract was due to end June 30. Nelson is entering his 25th season with the Suns and 18th as head athletic trainer.

Follow Craig Grialou on Twitter

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