Jackson Purcell’s journey from Eastview (MN) standout to Gophers walk-on

Interview conducted by Chris Monter

Jackson Purcell, a 6-foot-5 senior guard from Apple Valley (MN) Eastview, committed to Minnesota as a preferred walk-on.

Purcell averaged 12.8 points per game this past season for the Lightning, scoring in double figures in eight of 11 games, all victories.

GopherHole caught up with Purcell to learn more about his recruitment and upcoming freshman season.

GopherHole: You committed to Minnesota yesterday as preferred walk-on. What were the reasons that you decided that Minnesota was where you wanted to play college basketball?

Jackson Purcell: First of all, it is just a great opportunity to be a part of the next chapter at Minnesota with the new coaching staff coming in. It is going to be great opportunity to make connections, to meet new people and just be around a team with a lot of buzz as they start a new chapter in their history and I love Minnesota. I live 20 minutes from campus. I was planning on attend Carlson (School of Management) anyways. It is a great academic school and Minnesota has a great history. Williams Arena is probably one of the best basketball arenas in the country.

GopherHole: What other schools were you hearing from during the season?

Jackson Purcell: Mostly MIAC schools. Division III schools. Otherwise, I was pretty focused on just going to Carlson. I got into Carlson November-ish. Early action enrollment. I was kind of set on going there. It is just a great opportunity to pass up academic-wise. A lot of people that go to Carlson go on to be very successful. It’s just a great environment there.

GopherHole: Obviously, you are in kind of a unique situation, because most of the players on the team are very new. You have a lot of transfers, so it’s not like you are going to a situation where some of the players have been there for two, three or four years. Everyone is somewhat on a level playing field, so I feel that if a player works hard and does a good job, they are going to get playing time. It is not like predetermined who is going to play. Is that something that appeals to you?

Jackson Purcell: It is, actually. Coming in as a walk-on, no one expects you to do anything. You are kind of just showing up to be part of the team, but obviously, I have a goal to try to get on the court and do as much as I can, whether in practice or games situations to make a difference, because at this point, no one is expecting anything other than me just being part of the team. Just have an opportunity to make a name for myself is something that is cool to me.

GopherHole: What things are you really trying to work on this spring and summer to continue to improve yourself as a player?

Jackson Purcell: I have kind of turned into more of a shooter. I played point guard for my Eastview team. I shot pretty well from beyond the arc, but not at a Division I level, so that is something that I need to work on. To just make a difference on the court and even get on the court, I have to become a better shooter overall and my shooting.

GopherHole: I know that you have been working out with your former AAU coach and former Gopher guard Mitch Ohnstad. What have you learned from him?

Jackson Purcell: Mitch is a great guy. I’ve been working out with him for over a year now. He was, like you said, my AAU coach. I played for him all summer, spring and fall and he is just a great mentor. Obviously, played for the Gophers. Very successful, Mr. Basketball career. He just teaches me the little things in the game. Seeing things that I haven’t seen before. What to notice. We’re in a game and how to work out environments into game situations. We kind of just keep on the move during our workouts, which is very cool. He makes everything seem like a game situation. I have improved so much working out with him.

GopherHole: How about your senior season? To be honest, I don’t know if there were a ton of expectations about Eastview, but you guys got off to a great start and were undefeated before, unfortunately, you got hurt and the team didn’t play quite as well without you. What was the feeling about your senior season?

Jackson Purcell: When I got hurt, that was a huge bummer, but at the end of the day, it was kind of something cool. I got really close with some of the younger guys. The JV team. I kind of mentored some of those guys. Become more of a coaching role. It was great to see my teammates succeed. Guys I grew up with succeed in my absence. Kind of step up in bigger roles because they are the guys who work hard behind the scenes and don’t get enough credit. Like you said, I obviously wanted to be out there. I think a lot of people saw my junior year and players like Steven Crowl (who is now is Wisconsin) and Ryan Thissen (St. John’s). Guys who were very successful and had successful college careers. They just didn’t know what we had in store on the bench, but they weren’t at practice every day. I knew that we were going to bring a lot to the table that following year, my senior year and I think we could have made a run, if I stayed healthy.

GopherHole: What was the exact injury you had?

Jackson Purcell: I had a knee displacement. I dislocated my kneecap, so I had to go to physical therapy. I wasn’t like an ACL or MCL thing. It was more like I had to restrengthen my knee and my muscles before I could make a return.

GopherHole: How long did it take to get back to close to 100%?

Jackson Purcell: About a month. A little over a month I was back, at least practicing and being involved in some activities.

GopherHole: What is it going to mean to walk on that court your first game at Williams Arena to you, hopefully as a freshman?

Jackson Purcell: It would mean the world to me. I remember playing there in a camp tournament my sophomore or freshman year and just playing in that environment and being there felt so special for a kid who grew up 20 miles away, whose parents used to work for the “U.” It is just a great opportunity and I am really looking forward to an opportunity to be a part of that.

GopherHole: What did your parents do at the University?

Jackson Purcell: My dad was part of the athletic training group for the football teams, so I went to so many football games growing up. My mom worked with the hockey team as an event coordinator, so she was in charge of scheduling stuff, so I have been to countless hockey games, football games. We snuck into a few basketball games here and there.

GopherHole: Does that make it even more special since not only is it the local school, but a school where both of your parents worked and you have gone to a lot of games? Does that make it more special to play at that same school?

Jackson Purcell: Yes, it really does. I have kind of grown up a Gopher. Countless Gopher events I’ve been to. Countless Gopher items I have. Kind of grew up a Gopher. Loved the Gophers and I guess that it is just kind of fate that I ended up there.

GopherHole: What do you see as your strengths as a player?

Jackson Purcell: My strengths as a player, I would say I’m a bigger guard. I’m 6-foot-5, obviously at Division I, there are a lot of big guards these days, but I’m a longer guard. I can guard multiple positions. Division I-wise, I can probably guard 1 through 3, possibly four depending on the team. In high school, I could guard 1 through 5. I could bring the ball up. I could post up. I could guard the post. I could guard the point guard. Pick up full court. Kind of all the above. Utility guy.

GopherHole: One of the things looking through the roster at the University of Minnesota is that it seems like that Coach Johnson is going with a system of having players with good size. I don’t think that there is anyone under 6-3 on the whole roster. Has he talked to you much about what their style of play is going to be like next year?

Jackson Purcell: Not too much, but based on the guys, I can see a lot of success coming in. Great transfers of guards, big guards who have had successful college careers already. Bringing in environment of guys who bring success who have known success to a culture that deserve some success.

GopherHole: Do you watch a lot of college or pro basketball?

Jackson Purcell: I watch a lot of college basketball. Usually, I don’t watch the NBA until the playoffs, because it’s not as fun to watch. People don’t try as hard until the playoffs. But college basketball, I love college basketball. March Madness is my favorite thing. Favorite time of the year. Look forward to it every year.

GopherHole: What would it mean to have the opportunity to play in March in the NCAA tournament to you?

Jackson Purcell: Playing in March Madness would be an absolute dream come true and would be something I would never, ever forget. I wouldn’t trade anything. I would in March Madness over anything.

GopherHole: Are there certain teams or players that you watch for more when you are watching games? Like guys that are your position to learn things from them?

Jackson Purcell: I watch a lot of guys from Minnesota. I watched a lot of Jalen Suggs this year. Gonzaga had a really, really great year. Guys like Nate Heise. He went to UNI. I think that he was All-Freshman. He had a great career in Minnesota. I just like keeping up Minnesota guys, because I feel Minnesota creates a lot of talent in basketball and doesn’t get a lot of credit.

GopherHole: I know that Coach Johnson has made a priority to getting Minnesota kids to stay home. Is that also something that appeals to you? The homestate school and playing for the Gophers?

Jackson Purcell: I think that is a terrific idea. We have guys like Chet Holmgren, who was number one in 2021 class, who lives right here in Minneapolis. I think that Minnesota guys are a lot more talented than people give them credit for and I that is a terrific idea to try to keep in-state talent here.

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