Jackson performs to Jordan-esque level

Todd Zolecki

Bobby Jackson knew who he wanted to be like while growing up in North Carolina. For years the Gophers men’s basketball player had watched Michael Jordan dominate the game and become a Tar Heel legend. And as one of the many Jordan followers, Jackson tried to mimic the star’s game and maybe become the next Airness’ of the NBA.
Looking at Jackson these days, there are some resemblances between him and the man who might be the greatest basketball player ever. Both are shooting guards, both have big play ability and both sport shaved heads.
And while no one is ready to say the two are twins separated at birth, Jackson’s contributions to Minnesota this season have meant as much to his team as Jordan’s have to the Chicago Bulls.
“Everybody in North Carolina wants to be like Mike,” Jackson said. “I kind of pattern my game after him. He’s a great player, and who wouldn’t want to be like Mike?”
Who wouldn’t want to be like Bobby? The senior has been on fire since the conference season started. He is the only player to rank among the top 10 in scoring (4th at 17.5 per game), assists (3rd at five per game) and rebounding (5th at 7.6 per game) in Big Ten competition.
For that reason, Gophers coach Clem Haskins said Jackson is, without a doubt, the league’s most valuable player. Jackson’s biggest rival is Iowa guard Andre Woolridge, who leads the conference in scoring and assists in Big Ten play, but isn’t among the top 15 in rebounds.
The Gophers’ 6-foot-1 guard can rebound with the best. He leads his team on the boards in conference play. And Jackson makes sure he lets teammate Courtney James, who stands 6-foot-8, know about it.
It could be causing some tension among the players’ ranks. Teammate Sam Jacobson joked that Jackson stole a rebound from him Saturday against Purdue.
“Once the ball hits the glass, he gets the basketball,” Haskins said. “You can’t teach that. That’s not coaching. Bobby has those great instincts. Bobby has great heart and desire. If the ball is loose in the arena, he’ll get to it.”
Haskins said Jackson’s rebounding is one big reason the Gophers are 18-2 and No. 6 in the country.
Jackson is starting to fulfill all the hype which surrounded him before the season. Sporting News named him the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and he was counted on to be the Gophers’ money player throughout the season.
But Jackson didn’t look like an MVP-caliber player during the nonconference season. He struggled with his shots, making only 39.8 percent from the floor.
The pressure got to him. The same player who led the Gophers’ late-season charge for a shot in the NCAA tournament last year couldn’t carry the team during the nonconference season.
And while players insist they don’t pay attention to those preseason magazines and polls, they do. Jackson is one of them.
“It was a big hype,” he said. “I think I was trying to do too much. I was rushing my shots and trying to create things. I was forcing things.”
Jacobson knows all about high expectations. The junior, named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday, is used to lots of pressure. He said it can affect a player.
“You just have to have confidence in your ability,” Jacobson said. “A player should learn to put that aside and not let that affect them on the court.”
Jackson has calmed down since then, and he said he’s more relaxed. It shows. And as Minnesota plays three of its next four games on the road, his teammates will need him to continue the type of play which has Haskins buzzing about league MVP and first-team All-Big Ten selection.
“I’m just trying to work hard for 40 minutes and help the team win,” Jackson said.
So far he has done just that.