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June 20, 2011
Joe Jackson is feeling--and playing basketball--like a new man.
Jackson, by any accounts, is coming off the most trying season of his basketball career. Coming to the University of Memphis from White Station High School, where he had won a AAA state title as a junior and been a runner-up the following season, the freshman phenom was expected to set the college world ablaze with his unique blend of speed, toughness and hops.
There was rampant talk of Jackson spending just one year in college before turning pro.
However, he struggled for most of the season, and completed his freshman campaign with modest averages of 9.9 points per game (second on the team), 3.1 assists per game and 2.1 rebounds per outing with 35 total steals. He was second on the team in free throw percentage (72.6%) and shot 31.1 percent from three-point range.
The numbers were somewhat underwhelming to some, and a small but very vocal group of fans fell into claiming that Jackson, who was ranked as high as No. 10 in the nation depending on the scouting service that you trust (Rivals had him No. 12), was overrated.
His high school coach, White Station's Jesus Patino, dismisses such talk out-of-hand.
"If you look at the stats, the only bad stat Joe had was turnover-to-assist ratio," Patino explained. "But he scored some points, got some assists, got a few rebounds. When you take into account his surrounding cast, he didn't have the experience around him that, say, Kyrie Irving had at Duke.
"He had a bunch of freshmen around him, a second-year coach and all the distractions and pressure of playing in his hometown. But for a freshman, he had a great year. Anybody who says anything different just doesn't know the game of basketball."
His current head coach, Memphis' Josh Pastner, remains unwavering in his support of his rising sophomore point guard.
"Joe's going to be great here at Memphis, I've said that from Day One."
So it comes as no surprise to either Pastner or Patino that Joe Jackson has played so well for Team USA Basketball, leaving him in great position for a spot on the final roster.
"It's a terrific thing, an honor well-deserved," said a very proud Josh Pastner. "It's good not only for Joe but for the Tigers. He's going to get so much better.
"Any time you get two practices a day, with such structure and such good competition, playing in hostile environments, it's going to really help him develop. Plus, he's playing for people who will be giving the team detailed scouting reports and generally preparing at the highest levels."
Jackson echoes his college coach's sentiments that the experience is making him a better player.
"I'm making good decisions, having fun, and trying to soak up as much as I can from all the coaches," he acknowledges. "There's so many good coaches here."
Patino has no doubts that his former protege' will thrive in international competition.
"He's the type of player you want to represent the United States," the Venezualan native observed. "I don't see any international player staying in front of him. I played international ball for several years and I know Joe's gonna do a great job."
Jackson has quickly developed a strong rapport with his summer time head coach, Paul Hewitt of George Mason University.
Before laving for the USA Basketball compound, Jackson spoke to members of the Memphis media and indicated that he'd talked to Hewitt on the telephone.
"I don't know if he was just blowing smoke, but Coach Hewitt told me that he wouldn't coach the team if I wasn't on it," Jackson revealed.
The quicksilver point guard did nothing to dispel Hewitt's faith over the weekend.
"I still had to come (here) and show up, show him what I can do," Jackson began. "I'm scoring the ball, making good decisions and trying to lead the team.
"Coach Hewitt already knows I can score but he and Coach (Jim) Boeheim both say I'm playing better than they expected. They didn't know I can come off the pick-and-roll and pass with the left hand. But I could do that all along, they're just getting the chance to see it for themselves."
"Real Deal" Joe's performance makes him a cinch to travel with the team. He's expected to play a critical role on USA Basketball's 19-under travel team as they attempt to defend the United State's gold medal performance of two summer's ago. When reached by phone last night, this is what Jackson had to say:
"I just spoke to Coach Hewitt and Jim Boeheim. They say I'm not really going to leave the games. They're going to play me a lot of minutes. They're gonna put the ball in my hands and let me play. I'm gonna have a big role, put in a lot of minutes. It's gonna be a lot of work but I should have some fun."
That doesn't mean that Jackson is getting a big head nor is he slacking up. He knows there's work to do.
"I'm still gonna be humble and work hard," he insisted. "We're trying to pack a lot into each two-and-a-half hour practice. We're trying to get ready, there's a lot to learn. There's a few things they want me to work on.
"In college, they said I get too many turnovers on over-penetration and leaving my feet. They're telling me that if I see daylight penetrate, hit the hole hard and get to the basket, but if it shuts down, just kick it back out and set the offense back up again."
The high altitude in Colorado Springs has made it a challenge for everyone to get acclimated.
"The coaches tell us that it takes three days to get used to (the extreme altitude)," he told us. "It's not like it's hard to breathe or anything you just can't catch your breath. You just don't feel right and you get tired real quick.
"On the first day, when I was running, my chest was burning like I was drinking acid or something. It took me 15 minutes to recover from two sets of wind sprints. But I'm adjusting now and just fighting through it."
Jackson has made it a point to develop his leadership ability this summer, going so far as to say that he, Will Barton, and Tarik Black are the vocal team leaders. It's a part of his growth process that will ultimately help make him the man and the player that he wants to be. After an often-tumultuous freshman season, Jackson is finally adjusting to new pressures the way many expected he would.
"It's a great maturing process," Patino confided. "Joe understands where he was and where he is now. To me, it's like talking to a new Joe. Like last year after he graduated (from White Station) he couldn't wait for the season to start. People were telling him he wouldn't be in college but for a year and he was gonna do this, gonna do that, and he listened to them. That was the old Joe.
"But I told him, it would depend on how quickly he matured whether he would have the kind of season he wanted. He looks back on that now and understands that he needed to go through this maturing process to get better. Everybody goes through it, even the great ones. It just takes some a little longer than others. This season, he's gonna be a better leader on the floor for Memphis."
Just accepting the invitation to play for Team USA Basketball shows the progress that Jackson has made.
"Last year he was invited to go to tryouts but he let some people close to him convince him not to go," Patino continues. "I was very disappointed by that. Now, he has the opportunity to see how special it is to play for such a great country. It will help him to appreciate his gift. He will represent the U.S. with class, pride and dignity."
Through it all, Jackson will also unashamedly carry the banner of his hometown, with whom he has had a sometimes-contentious relationship. Joe makes it a point, however, to focus on the positives.
"I know the Memphis fans well, I've lived in the city all my life," he said. "And at one point, I was going to leave Memphis, but the fans showed me so much love so I stayed. I want to take the time out to thank the fans in Tiger Nation who stuck behind me and believed in me.
"I'm playing for my country but I represent for Memphis."
Leroy Watson, Jr. is the Managing Editor of TigerSportsReport.com and may be reached via e-mail: Leroy@tigersportsreport.com or follow him on Twitter: @leroywatsonjr
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