Jackson steals MVP honors

Todd Zolecki

Bobby Jackson knows success comes at a price. As a high school student in Salisbury, N.C., he slacked off in class and didn’t get the grades needed to receive a scholarship at a Division I school.
He did attend class regularly, but not for the right reasons. His friends were there and he had to go to school so he could play basketball.
Jackson blew any chances to play at a Division I school. As a non-qualifier under Proposition 48, Jackson decided to attend junior college as a freshman. Prop 48 combines a student’s standardized test scores and grade point average to determine eligibility to play, practice and receive financial aid.
Jackson moved to Nebraska and spent two years at Western Nebraska Community College. He did enough there in class and on the basketball court to earn a scholarship to Minnesota.
Jackson said he broke his mother’s heart when he signed with the Gophers. She wanted Jackson to go to Wake Forest, another school that recruited him out of Western Nebraska. But Jackson said he made the best decision for himself and doesn’t regret it.
At Minnesota, Jackson has worked hard and sacrificed. The media and league coaches named him Big Ten Player of the Year. The Associated Press made him a second team All-America selection. He found success.
The change came simply because he grew up. The time of goofing around with his friends passed. He began to study, something he never did in high school, and developed a work ethic.
He began to take school seriously after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the first day of practice at Western Nebraska. He sat out that year and had nothing else to do but study.
“That was the biggest turn in my life,” he said. “By sitting out that year, I got into my books and did the things that we’re going to help Bobby Jackson become successful in the future.”
Gophers coach Clem Haskins said he pushed Jackson to succeed since his first day at Minnesota. The two built a mutual respect for one another and developed a relationship based on hard work.
“I want to be remembered as a kid who went out there and laid it out on the line every night,” Jackson said.
Looking back, Haskins said, if Jackson had two more years at Minnesota, he might have accomplished more than this. The senior now looks toward a possible NBA career.
“Just think if he would’ve played 120 basketball games,” Haskins said. “He would be, without a doubt, the finest player to ever play here. There have been good basketball players at Minnesota, but you put all of it together, the total package, that’s why he’s the MVP of the Big Ten.”
Jackson finished the Big Ten season averaging 16.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
The MVP has played 55 games at Minnesota. Haskins likes to say his shooting guard has played in 39.
Jackson broke his foot the first day of practice before his junior year at Minnesota. He sat out for two months, missing the first seven games of the season, and didn’t really feel the groove until the second half of the Big Ten season.
The Gophers went 7-2 those last nine games. They are 27-3 this year as they enter the NCAA tournament as the Midwest Regional’s No. 1 seed. Jackson hasn’t missed one of those games. Coincidence? Haskins doesn’t think so. He said that without Jackson, the Gophers would be scratching and clawing just to be above .500 right now and might have been a bubble team for the NCAA tournament.
Maybe on this star-less team there is one brighter than all the rest.
“He’s just now beginning to scratch the surface of what he can do on the basketball court,” Haskins said.
Haskins believes he pushed Jackson to become his best.
“He’s a very mature young man,” Haskins said. “It takes a man like that to play for me.”
The two accept each other. Actually it’s more Jackson accepting Haskins’ ways than the other way around. The coach demands maximum effort and so far that’s all Jackson has given him.
“He’s trying to make me a better person,” he said. “It wasn’t great when he was on me, but it feels good right now.”
Haskins was all over Jackson when he first arrived. When asked what the harshest thing Haskins ever said to him, Jackson could only laugh. It was rough, but he knows it was for the best.
“I want to make myself better,” Jackson said.
Game times announced
The No. 1-seeded Gophers’ first round game against No. 16-seeded Southwest Texas State on Friday will begin 30 minutes after the Mississippi-Temple game, which starts at 6:50 p.m.
If the Gophers win that first round game, they’ll play late Sunday afternoon against the winner between Temple and Mississippi.
Minnesota is having a team send-off Wednesday morning at 8:45 a.m. in the Williams Arena parking lot. The team departs for Kansas City at 9:00 a.m.