Jackson Knows There's Some Pain in Gaining Experience

In Juma Jackson's world, things aren't as bad as they may appear.

An example.

Jackson, a freshman guard, suffered a concussion Saturday against Cal State Northridge. He missed the second half and slept until 2 p.m. the following day. He also missed Monday's game against the University of San Diego. So, it was bad?

"I've had worse," Jackson said. "When I was a kid I saw that Scottish thing on video at school, you know, where they throw the logs. I thought it looked like fun, so when I got home, I got a log and gave it a try. The log hit me in the head and I slept for two days."

Who better for the Anteaters to lean on while trying to ride out a difficult season? Not many people have tried "the tossing of the caber" at age 11. Not in this country, anyway.

Sure, Irvine is 0-7 and has been beaten soundly in all but two of those losses. Jackson has seen worse.

"When I was a sophomore [at Greensboro (N.C.) Page High School], we were 2-20," Jackson said. "I told the guys this and they didn't believe me. They were all used to winning seasons in high school.

"But we were bad that year. We were a young team, just like we are now [at Irvine]. We made excuses after the first couple losses. After losing the first 10, we learned to block things out. We figured out it was something we had to go through to get better."

Such a sage can only help Irvine.

It was not so much for his wisdom that Coach Rod Baker recruited the 6-foot-4 Jackson, but for his play. Anyone unaware of his abilities need only borrow video on the Anteaters' season opener against San Diego State.

Jackson scored 23 points and made nine of 13 shots. One in particular stood out. A length of the court drive that ended with a Jackson tomahawk dunk over 6-8 Tye Fields.

That performance was followed by some mediocre play, by the Anteaters and Jackson. He was held to three shots by Washington State, then suffered through a two-for-nine shooting performance against Eastern Washington. He scored five points in both games.

Still, Jackson was anything but devastated.

"I just learned not to be so lackadaisical on the court," said Jackson, who is averaging 10 points.

Such is his demeanor.

"Nothing is going to bother Juma," Baker said. "He just wants to play. It could be a practice, a game, breakfast, lunch or dinner. Juma just wants to play."

Irvine was one of the few schools that offered him a chance.

After the bad sophomore season at Page, Jackson averaged 17 points as a junior and 18 points as a senior. Still, few college coaches were interested.

Jackson visited North Carolina Asheville, North Carolina Greensboro and Virginia Tech. Only Asheville offered a scholarship.

"I was getting tired of the wait," Jackson said. "There are all these hassles with recruiting and some of the coaches were beating around the bush. It didn't really bother me, but I was getting close to not caring. I was going to go to college and just be a student."

Then the Anteater coaches came calling.

Jackson didn't even make a visit to Irvine. He merely talked to a friend who lived on the West Coast.

"He said I would love Irvine," Jackson said. "He is a trustworthy guy. So I signed."

One might think such advice would end a friendship. The Anteaters, after all, haven't had a pleasant time this season. Their losing streak is at 10 dating back to last season, a streak that includes a 107-45 loss to USC.

Still, Jackson has seen worse. And he expects to see better. Opponents may see an easy victory. Jackson sees a young team that is learning.

"If we stick together the rest of our careers, we're going to be pretty darn good," Jackson said.


Ouch, ouch, ouch: Jackson received the concussion when he was elbowed in the head going for a rebound. While everyone raced up court, Jackson staggered to the sideline and collapsed.

"My legs wanted to move, but my head wanted to sit down," Jackson said.

It was about the most "normal" injury Jackson has suffered.

Besides the log incident, Jackson has two other major injuries.

He broke his knee jumping a fence when he was 11. He and two friends were racing . . . to buy a newspaper.

"I was second until the fence," Jackson said. "Then I got stuck."

When he was 15, Jackson broke his hand when another player landed on it during a game.

"When it first happened, it felt good," Jackson said. "It felt like when you crack your knuckles. There's a moment that it feels really good. Then the pain came. It came pretty quick."


California Dreamin': Jackson is still amazed by the Southern California weather and locals' lack of tolerance for a little moisture.

"I talked with my mom last week and she said they were going to get snow," Jackson said. "I told her I hadn't even seen rain yet. I saw stuff people here called rain, but it wasn't rain."

Jackson isn't the only out-of-state Anteater amused by California.

Shannon Anders, a freshman guard on the women's basketball team, called her parents the first week of classes to tell them the news.

"I had to tell them about the palm trees," said Anders, who is from Grapevine, Texas. "The first time I called my parents, that's all I had to tell them, 'They really have palm trees here.' "

Coming Attractions

Here is a look at key upcoming games for UC Irvine.

* Men's basketball plays Utah at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Bren Center. Utah is ranked ninth in the nation.

* Women's basketball plays Santa Clara at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Bren Center. The Anteaters are coming off a solid performance in the Oakland Tribune Classic, where they split two games.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World