Lucas at Large: Ohio is home, but Jackson enjoying life as a Badger

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Traevon Jackson agreed to page through his photo album; committed to memory or otherwise.

In one snapshot, he's pictured with his fourth- and fifth-grade teammates: Trey Burke, now a freshman point guard at Michigan, and Jared Sullinger, now a sophomore All-American at Ohio State. (That's Jackson at far left in the front row and Sullinger at far right in the back row).

120204_MBB_Jackson_Traevon_AAU.jpg"We were all on the same team along with Adam Griffin (one of Archie's kid),'' said Jackson, a UW freshman. "He (Sullinger) used to eat at McDonald's every day and come out and shoot 3s.

"He was in fifth grade and only about 5-9; but he was big and chubby. Now, he's in great shape (6-9, 280). He's obviously improved his body a lot. He's a great player. He was still good then.''

There's a second snapshot of Jackson; a more recent one from last February.

Picture him in Wisconsin colors working the cash register and bagging groceries.  During his senior year at Westerville (Ohio) South High School, he held a part-time job at a grocery store.

On this particular day -- Feb 12, 2011 -- the store employees were encouraged to honor their favorite college team. Since Jackson was committed to being a Badger, he represented accordingly.

Everybody else was in Ohio State colors.

"Everybody else in the store was sad,'' Jackson said, "except me.''

That was the day that the Badgers beat the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes at the Kohl Center. Jackson listened to the game on the radio and then raced home after work and watched the TV highlights.

"That was big,'' he said with a big grin.

Jackson will have a front row seat -- on the UW bench -- for Saturday's matchup against No. 3 Ohio State. Although his playing time has been limited, he will continue to prepare like he's a starter.

"That's the toughest thing going into games knowing that you may not step on the court,'' Jackson said, "but knowing in the back of your head that you've got to be ready.''

Jackson last played on Jan. 18 against Northwestern.

Overall, he's seen action in only 12 of 23 games.

"I honestly thought I'd be playing a little more,'' said Jackson. "But that's not the case. We've got guys ahead of me: Rob (Wilson) who's a senior and Ben (Brust) who has put in his time as well.

"You've got to respect that and just be ready whenever your time comes.''

A year ago, Brust went through the same freshman transition that Jackson is going through now. Brust played in just 15 of 34 games. He got fewer minutes (45) than Jackson already has seen (89).

This season, Brust has become a key contributor in the "sixth man'' role.

"He has obviously been a huge part of our success,'' Jackson said.  "He stretches the defense. We need that. He's a guy who can come off the bench and create and knock down shots.

"Ben put in his work and his time came to perform (this year).

"That's what I've got to do (perform) when my time comes.''

During Thursday's practice, Jackson was wearing a white jersey -- which is worn by the starters and the top reserves. Wilson had a class and, in his absence, Jackson took his place in the rotation.

At one point, UW coach Bo Ryan teased Jackson about socializing with the scout team.

"Tomorrow, I will be back to the scout team,'' Jackson said afterward. "But it was nice today to see where you want to be in the future. You can show off your skill set while you're with the first team.''

Gearing up physically and mentally for every practice has been a part of Jackson's adjustment.

"It's a grind and you definitely have to be committed to it 100 percent,'' he said. "You have to have your focus every day. That's the biggest thing -- being consistent and giving that effort every day.''

Realistically, he conceded, it's just human nature to slough off sometimes. "But you have to push through things that you're not used to doing,'' he said.

That's part of the maturing process, Jackson added.

"The biggest key is mental toughness,'' he said. "To me, it means fighting through adversity when things aren't going right. You have to find a way to make it right -- regardless.

"If you're not hitting shots some days, you have to find other ways to get involved in the game. You have to find ways to stay active and not get down on yourself.

"You might not be playing some games. But you still have to find that desire and toughness to come back every day and get better by staying in the gym.''

Jackson feels like his game has definitely gotten better this season.

"I'm working daily on my ball-handling, working on my shooting, working on things that I feel  I can bring to the team,'' he said. "As long as I'm doing these things when my time comes I'll be fine.''

The older, more experienced players have been supportive while reminding Jackson that "It's just a process -- some of them went through it -- and they just tell you to keep working'' in practice.

"That all goes back to being ready,'' Jackson said. "God forbid, if Rob or Ben got hurt, I'd have to be ready. Or, if they get in foul trouble, I'd have to be ready. That's the way I've prepared.''

Nobody is better prepared to simulate Ohio State on the scout team than Jackson, who has played with or against Sullinger, Jordan Sibert, J.D. Weatherspoon and LaQuinton Ross.

On the AAU circuit, he's also crossed paths with Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson.

"I pretty much know all of their games,'' Jackson said.

By his own admission, he will likely get more emotional in late February when Wisconsin and Ohio State play in Columbus because there will be a lot of family and friends in attendance.

Picture this: Traevon Jackson playing in the same arena where his dad's jersey is one of the retired numbers hanging from the rafters. Jim Jackson was a two-time All-American at Ohio State.

For now, though, his only focus is Saturday's game against the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center.

"I'm a Badger,'' he said. "We've got to beat them regardless of where my hometown is.''

1 Comment

Why does Ben Brust get more minutes? He has been shooting poorly and is not great defensively or with ball handling. It is like they are playing with 4 players. Maybe someday he will be effective, but not right now.

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