Dale Brown says Chris Jackson is “a very unique man.”
“Somewhere along his life,” Brown said this week, “the good Lord reached down and touched him on the shoulder. He gave him special skills and He gave him a special attitude.”
He also gave Chris Jackson to Dale Brown and Louisiana State University. And ever since, it has been Jackson who has been doing most of the giving.
With this 6-foot-1, 170-pound freshman point guard from Gulfport, Miss., averaging 28.1 points, 4.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game, Brown and his Tigers entered their game Saturday against second-ranked Georgetown as the No. 1 team in the Southeastern Conference.
They have a 13-5 record overall and a 6-2 conference mark. They are 7-1 in road games. They have lost only to Tennessee and Mississippi State in their 11 games since a 127-100 thrashing at the hands of top-ranked Illinois on Dec. 22. They have won their last four games by a total of eight points.
Not bad for a team picked to finish in the lower half of the SEC, a team that has no player taller than 6-7 averaging 10 or more minutes per game, a team that has three potential stars sitting out the season because of Proposition 48.
“Nobody picked us exactly to finish near the top of Mount Everest,” assistant coach Craig Carse said.
But with Jackson, the Tigers are striving for the mountaintop.
“He’s the first natural that I’ve had the opportunity to play with,” fifth-year senior forward Ricky Blanton said. “John Williams (now with the Washington Bullets) was the closest thing, but he was a big guy. I’ve never played with a guard who just does it.”
Need a last-second shot? Jackson has broken the hearts of Maryland and Vanderbilt with last-second shots.
Need a go-to guy down the stretch? Jackson scored LSU’s final 16 points in its 64-62 victory at Kentucky and 15 of its final 17 in a 79-77 victory over the Terrapins at College Park.
Need a pure scorer? In his third collegiate game, Jackson scored 48 points against Louisiana Tech. Two games later, in his SEC debut, he set an NCAA Division I freshman record with 53 points at Florida.
“It doesn’t matter if he shows up and stretches,” Blanton said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s in street clothes. He just plays.”
Really, that’s all Chris Jackson ever has known about basketball. Just playing.
“I can’t take credit for it,” said Bert Jenkins, Jackson’s coach at Gulfport High School, which lost only 12 games and won two state championships during Jackson’s three varsity seasons. “I wish I could, but I can’t. He’s a self-made player.”
Jackson: “There were people I played against, but learning things, I think I learned from myself. I mean I practiced hours and hours, trying new things. I would look on the TV and see things that they do and I’d try to pick up moves and learn them myself.
“In the summer, I woke up at like 5 or 6 in the morning and started playing. I did that all the time. I used to practice all hours. I’d go out and practice, come home and eat, and then go right back out. I’d stay until nighttime if that’s what it took. I’d stay until I’d get tired. That’s when I would stop.
“During school, I’d practice with the team. That was about two hours. But after I did what I had to do at home, if I felt like going out that night, I’d go to the gym and shoot. I just couldn’t get enough of it really.”
And before he finished, he went through what he calls “my routine.” A five- to seven-minute exercise that involved dribbling and shooting at full-speed. One mistake, and it was back to the beginning.
“If I missed, or if the ball didn’t go in right, I’d have to start over,” he said. “People used to think I was crazy.”
His work paid off in equally unusual ways.
“At the beginning of practice, I’d make them shoot 20 free throws,” Jenkins said. “If they made them all, I’d let them shoot until they missed. One time during his junior year, Chris made 283 in a row. Delayed practice for 45 minutes. About two weeks later, he made 267. Another time, he made 240-something. After that, I had to start limiting him to 100 because he was using up all our gym time.”
The recruiting of Chris Jackson, which began when he was a ninth-grader, is legendary. Stories abound of his mother’s refusal to sign his national letter of intent to attend LSU and the chaos that ensued. He was pressured to attend a predominantly black school, to play for a black coach and-or to attend a school in his home state.
“There was never any doubt that he was going to come to LSU,” Brown said. But Carse, who did most of the recruiting for LSU, admitted there were times when he was concerned about the people attempting to sway Jackson and about Jackson’s ability to meet Proposition 48’s requirements. According to Jenkins, Jackson took the American College Test “several” times before attaining the needed score.
“It was rough,” Jackson said. “At the beginning of my senior year, I knew where I wanted to go, but at that time so many people wanted me to stay in state or go here or there, I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I kept ‘em guessing, which was the wrong thing to do.”
Louisiana State ended up being the only school Jackson visited.
“Me and Coach Carse had a good relationship,” Jackson said. “I felt I could trust him. And I liked the people and the place and it wasn’t too far from home. It was just the place I wanted to be.”
And just the place Brown wanted him to be.
“He’s a better human being than he is a basketball player,” Brown said. “He’s just a very unusual person and a very unusual talent too. He’s almost too good to be true.”