Editor's note: The 2016-17 college basketball season will be the "Year of the Freshmen", featuring what could be the best class we've ever seen. Over the next two weeks we will get familiar with the best of the best, examining who they are and where each of the top 10 prospects in the 2016 ESPN 100 came from.
Read more: No. 10 Duke's Frank Jackson | No. 9 Kentucky's Malik Monk
No. 8 Michigan State's Miles Bridges | No. 7 Washington's Markelle Fultz
No. 6 Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox | No. 5 Kentucky's Bam Adebayo
No. 4 UCLA's Lonzo Ball | No. 3 Duke's Jayson Tatum
No. 2 Kansas' Josh Jackson | No. 1 Duke's Harry Giles
DURHAM, N.C. -- On Nov. 15, Frank Jackson will don his No. 15 jersey for Duke University, step on the court at Madison Square Garden -- The World's Most Famous Arena -- and take on Kansas in a nationally televised game between two preseason top-five teams.
The next day, Will Watanabe, Jackson's best friend, will board a flight to Tokyo, where he'll begin his mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Watanabe will spend two years in Japan, not even venturing home for a long weekend.
Win or lose, Jackson will return to Durham immediately following that Kansas game, where he'll settle back in as one of the big men on campus. More than 34,000 fans will continue to track his moves on Instagram, while another 12,000 will read his 140-character messages on Twitter.
Watanabe said he won't be able to use Instagram, Twitter or any social media during his 24 months in Japan. He won't even have a smartphone. Instead, he'll share the one phone he has with his Mormon traveling companion, and they'll be able to use it only for LDS purposes. In fact, Watanabe can call home just twice a year -- Christmas and Mother's Day -- and will have access to email once a week.
Naturally, you can guess who is jealous of whom.
"I really wish I was going too,'' Jackson said.
Instead, Jackson has opted to make basketball his mission, and his mission basketball -- the perfect combination for a person who values his faith even more than his crossover.
"We don't have multiple wives," Jackson explained. "We don't all have 20 kids. We're not a cult. We're Christians. We're normal. We believe in being good people.''
This, in some ways, is Jackson's mission: breaking down the perceptions and stereotypes that still chase Mormons to this day. With offshoot sects of their religion drawing attention thanks to reality TV shows such as "Sister Wives" and "Big Love," LDS members are still viewed with a quizzical, if not altogether skeptical, eye. Many people either don't understand what Mormonism is or they base their opinions on misinformation.
The very thought that Jackson even toyed with deferring his college basketball career for a mission might have sounded crazy.
But up until last year, Jackson had every intention of going away on a mission. Peppered with questions about his future as he traveled the recruiting circuit, he remained steadfast in his desire to be a missionary. It was not because he felt he had to. He simply wanted to.
Jackson essentially was reared on three principles: to compete, to succeed and to serve.
"We never cared what they wanted to do,'' Jackson's father, Al, said. "But whatever it was, they were going to excel.''
Al lived the message he preached, setting a rather high bar for his five kids to meet. A former college basketball and baseball player at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he graduated from the rigorous academic school and then earned a master's degree from John Hopkins. He put those degrees to use in Washington, D.C., working for 13 years as both a lobbyist and consultant, involved in providing counsel on national issues that frequently included homeland security. He turned that experience into a position as a state senator, appointed to a vacant seat in Utah in 2014.
"Eh, he was only a state senator,'' Frank joked about his dad.
That is the essence of the oldest boy and second youngest of five kids in the Jackson family.
Jackson and his older sister, Kayla, were the alpha dogs in the house. Each wanted things their own way and were downright competitive -- and occasionally combative in the process. Since the two left for college -- Kayla is at BYU and will marry on Dec. 22 during her younger brother's lone break from hoops -- Al and his wife, Juleen, can't help but notice how peaceful their home is now.
But Al was no fool. He made sure his son's goal to rule the roost would go through him, and Al was ready to meet or block his son as necessary, sometimes quite literally. The two started squaring off in hoops just as soon as the boy could swish a bucket on the six-foot Fisher-Price hoop in the basement. Al never once let his son win.
"I'd scream, 'You're the biggest jerk ever. You're an old man. You couldn't let me score a couple of times?'" Frank Jackson said. "And he never did.''
Yet, almost every single time, after he'd storm off forsaking his dad, Jackson would return for more, sometime within minutes.
"He has worn us out since he got here on this Earth,'' his father said, obvious pride in his voice. "But he learned to be competitive.''
Such bullheadedness might seem mutually exclusive to a faithful life, but as fervent as Al and Juleen were about teaching their kids to work for what they wanted, they were even more devoted to their faith. Juleen was born in Sandy, Utah, and raised a Mormon. She was working as an intern in D.C. when she met Al; about three weeks into their relationship, she brought him along to church.
Raised a Baptist in South Carolina and Maryland, Al was skeptical. He held plenty of his own stereotypes about the Mormon faith, tantamount among them that few members were of his race.
Instead, at an inner-city church in D.C., Al found a congregation diverse in color and socioeconomic status. Kids, many of them without fathers, loved the former basketball player, and soon Al was not only a regular at church, but he was also in charge of the youth hoops team. His faith grew in lockstep with his relationship with those boys -- many of whom he stays in touch with to this day -- and in 1992, he converted.
A year later, Al and Juleen were married. When Frank was 11, the growing family moved to Utah. Surrounded by kids of his own faith, Frank grew up as they all did, dreaming about the day they would head off on their mission.
"When you grow up in the LDS culture as Franklin did, going on a mission is just a natural progression,'' Al said. "We talked to him about it since he was a baby, but we really didn't have to talk about it. That's what all the kids did.''
Watanabe actually was the better athlete, at least at first. He matured faster than most of his buddies, which means he also grew taller earlier, and so when his club team played Jackson's, Watanabe usually emerged the victor. He was cocky about it too, reminding Jackson who owned the court.
Genetics eventually sucked the air out of Watanabe's braggadocio, and by the time the two started training at a nearby gym that concentrates on agility and speed work, Jackson left Watanabe in the dust.
"He could jump higher than everyone else, do all the drills faster,'' Watanabe said. "He just stood out.''
One night, Jackson dropped 30 points in a high school game as a freshman, and his father thought perhaps those Fisher-Price throwdowns had their merit. BYU thought the same. When Cougars coach Dave Rose offered Jackson a scholarship in 2013, the freshman quickly accepted.
The Provo school seemed ideal, with a very good basketball program and one that understood his Mormon faith. Deferring entry to BYU for a mission would be more the norm, not the exception there. But one year later, as Jackson worked his way up the recruiting ladder, he also worked up the courage to get out of his commitment.
He kept the Cougars in his final list but also added Utah, Stanford and Duke.
To the Blue Devils, who struggled without a true point guard for much of last season, Jackson was a prize worth fighting for. By the end of his senior season, he ranked No. 10 in RecruitingNation's ESPN 100. Skeptics questioned just how good a player out of the less fertile Utah recruiting bed could be, but scouts loved his speed, playmaking and especially that alpha-dog competitiveness.
The way Al, who knows a thing or two about excellence, figured it, there aren't a whole lot of people in the world who can claim to be among the very best in their fields. Mike Krzyzewski, Al reasoned, can. Saying yes to Duke, then, was easy.
Saying no to a mission? That was altogether different.
"It was a really hard decision," Frank Jackson said. "Very hard.''
There were no ultimatums and no pressure. Everyone -- coaches, parents, friends -- said they would honor whatever decision he made.
But how do you decide between a lifelong dream and a lifelong dream?
Jackson opted not to. He decided he could do both.
The purpose of an LDS mission is not simply to proselytize but also to live by example. Jackson realized that while he wouldn't immerse himself as Watanabe and his other friends will, he would have a pulpit and a platform that they don't have. Every interview, every television appearance offers a chance to explain what being a Mormon is -- and more, it's a way to demystify the religion.
"I'm in the spotlight,'' Jackson said. "Everyone is watching us. I can use that as a chance to be a light in the world, in a sense, to show people how I live and what I believe."
As it turns out, Jackson can do a little old-fashioned missionary work too. He already has connected with people serving their missions in the Raleigh-Durham area and his semi-fame has helped them speak to people who otherwise might have declined.
Jackson also has found a church and is quickly becoming an active member of the congregation.
It's in Chapel Hill.
"They know I'm a Duke player, but so far so good,'' Jackson said. "We'll see what happens when we play Carolina.''
Blue Devils and Tar Heels coexisting? That certainly has to qualify as good missionary work.