The people inside Holt High School’s gymnasium collectively looked around at each other as incoming Michigan State freshman Jaxon Kohler grabbed a rebound, pushed up the court and nailed a three early on in the Moneyball Pro-Am.
After committing to MSU, many critiqued parts of his game. Could he play defense at the next level? Can he be physical enough to score? How will he handle a big role with a lack of depth in the frontcourt? Kohler saw those critiques and wanted to not only quiet them down but is starting to put in the work to address them as well.
The people around the gym weren’t expecting this type of offensive game already from the young man. At six-foot-10 and 250 pounds, Kohler prides himself in being a back-to-the-basket scorer, but he flashed a lot more than just that with his ability to handle the ball and shoot at a high level like a guard in the Moneyball Pro-Am.
“First thing I want people to notice about my game is that I’m a back-to-the-basket big man, but not necessarily like a 90’s version of a big man like Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, all those guys who perfected the back-to-the-basket spin moves, post moves, that’s my game, but now I’m trying to add onto my game, expand my game with pick and pop threes, handle the ball a little bit, drive to the basket,” Kohler said. “I’m physical, I play 100% no matter what.”
Michigan State senior forward Malik Hall drew that assignment a number of times during Moneyball and each time, it was a complete mismatch on defense.
“Jaxon was down there giving me buckets,” Hall said. “I mean, I wasn’t guarding him a lot, but he was giving me buckets. I’m excited about him.”
While the flashy passes and draining threes at his size is certainly tantalizing, it has been the work ethic that has impressed many around the Michigan State program.
“It’s really good to see,” sophomore guard Jaden Akins said. “I’ve been seeing him work out a lot, I saw a lot of film before he got here. I just know that on the block when he gets it down there he’s going to be a tough cover.”
The American Fork, Utah native despite having the tools to succeed with his footwork around the basket and a soft touch with the ball, has still continued to grind to get better. Kohler spent much of the spring and summer doing workouts in Los Angeles from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. With those hours, comes increased confidence in your game and it's quite evident Kohler has it when you see the pick and pop threes with little to no hesitation
“It’s all about the hours you spend when no one is watching,” Kohler said. “When you spend as much hours as me, then you better have that confidence. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have that confidence.”
While the idea of addressing the critiques from people may be thought of as a way to shut people up, it’s much different for Kohler. He took to Twitter to post his workout in the sand as a way to show he’s trying to fix it.
“When I put that stuff out there, I wanted to make a statement,” Kohler said. “People were questioning this about my game or questioning that about my game, mainly could he slide his feet fast enough. When I put that stuff out there, I wanted people to know that I am giving nothing less than 110% to try and fix this.”
Kohler figures to immediately make an impact in the rotation. With Julius Marble off to Texas A&M and Marcus Bingham Jr. taking his talents to the NBA, there are a lot of minutes to be had among Kohler, Joey Hauser and Mady Sissoko in the front court this season. Combine the skills with the work ethic that has been made evident, it's clear why Michigan State Head coach Tom Izzo recruited the big man to East Lansing. And at times, Kohler even kind of sounds like Izzo.
“If you have time, you have time to work,” Kohler said.
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