Jan. 3, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson was given three distinct choices: A) the career-high 16 points that he scored against Satin Louis; B) the career-high 10 rebounds that he grabbed against West Virginia; or C) the seven assists, one shy of his career-high, and zero turnovers that he had against Marquette.
Which individual achievement did he feel best represented his growth as a point guard?
“I pride myself,” he said, “on taking care of the ball and finding teammates.”
The answer would be “C” -- especially when you have your hands on the steering wheel of a Bo Ryan-coached team. Jackson, a junior from Westerville, Ohio, has continued to shape his all-around game, hence “all of the above” have been positive developments in just his second season as a starter.
On what is demanded of a point guard, he said, “He really is the rock of the team. When things aren’t going right -- or when they are -- he has something to do with it. In this position you have to be mentally grounded to be successful, otherwise you can be up and down a lot, like I was last year.”
The Badgers have played in the NCAA tournament in each of Ryan’s first 12 seasons at Wisconsin and he admitted it would not have been possible last year without Jackson’s contributions, especially given the circumstances. Jackson stepped into the void created by Josh Gasser’s season-ending knee injury.
A year ago, Jackson’s assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.36 (99 assists, 73 turnovers), which placed him near the bottom statistically in the Big Ten. By contrast, Jackson was ranked among the top five with a 2.5 ratio (59, 24) going into Wednesday’s conference opener at Northwestern.
He didn’t hurt himself against the Wildcats, either. In 29 minutes, he had three assists and only one turnover. Two of his passes set up Sam Dekker for rim-rattling dunks; one came on a lob, the first that he’s executed with Dekker this year. Over the last five games, Jackson has 21 assists.
In blowing out Northwestern, 76-49, the Badgers had four players in double-figures, including Jackson, who had 10. He used the word “fearless” to describe freshman Nigel Hayes, the leading scorer with 19. He also suggested Hayes doesn’t know how good he can be -- unstoppable good, he said.
That carries weight, too, coming from a teammate, an upperclassmen, the point guard, no less. It’s a leadership thing and part of the mentality that Jackson has embraced in this role. “It’s definitely a mentality,” he said. “It’s a mentality to encourage guys -- to tell them the things that they can do.”
There are just so many things that factor into playing the point. For instance, Jackson has improved his rebounding from a 2.5 boards-per-game average last season to 4.7 this season. “I like to get to the ball quicker because then I can push it right away,” he said. “When I get the ball, we get to go faster.”
On the other position demands, he said, “It’s playing confident in terms of setting guys up. It’s taking the shots when you need to take them. It’s just knowing the right time when you need to make a play and the other times when you don’t need to make one. It’s just learning the game a lot more.”
|“It’s just knowing the right time when you need to make a play and the other times when you don’t need to make one,” Jackson said. “It’s just learning the game a lot more.”
Jackson has tried to go to school on Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams, a former All-Big Ten player at Illinois and a three-time NBA All-Star. Jackson admires his skill set and is always looking to “implement” some elements of his game. Both are physical. Williams is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. Jackson is 6-2, 208.
Jackson hesitated to answer at first when asked if there was anyone collegiately that plays like him. “I really haven’t seen anybody; I definitely think I’m unique,” he finally replied. “But like I’ve said, I’ve got a lot more room to grow and a lot more to get better at to define who I am.”
What he has shown so far is a toughness to accept criticism. He credited his faith for having the “full armor of God” and for being able to “take on the fiery darts that come at you.” On the inevitable point guard scrutiny, he also said, “It comes with the territory and you’ve got to be able to handle that.”
The Badgers have a uniqueness to their lineup this season in that they are starting the equivalent of three excellent ball handlers, if not three true point guards in Jackson, Josh Gasser and Ben Brust, not to mention Bronson Koenig coming off the bench. They also have a point forward in Dekker.
“We definitely have guys who can create for themselves,” said Jackson, who has welcomed the return of Gasser. “He’s just so tough. He’s a guy that you can count on in all situations, whether you need to score, whether you need to defend, whether you need to rebound, whether you need to pass.
“He just wants to win. It’s great to have that type of guy on your side.”
In rolling to a 14-0 record, the Badgers have shown a willingness to share the ball; to make that extra pass to get a better shot, all of which has enhanced their profile as one of Ryan’s better passing team. Along with Frank Kaminsky’s emergence, Dekker’s game has matured and expanded.
“Sam is so versatile in his ability,” Jackson said. “We haven’t seen his true potential yet. I just look forward to putting him in the right positions to bring that out. He’s something special.”
Both Iowa and Wisconsin will be in a position Sunday night to declare their early intentions as a Big Ten championship contender when the Hawkeyes and the Badgers collide at the Kohl Center. Collide is the operative verb because of the expected collision between these two strong-willed rivals.
Much will be said and written about Jarrod Uthoff, who transferred to Iowa after redshirting as a freshman at Wisconsin. But Jackson sees nothing personal in the matchup. “I’m happy for him,” he said of Uthoff, a Cedar Rapids native. “He made a decision that best fit him and he’s playing well.”
So are the Hawkeyes, who have the most depth in the Big Ten to go with their scoring prowess. “They have a great offense,” Jackson said. “They take away a lot of help (by the defense) with so many curls and cuts. They make you guard one-on-one. It will be a good test. They’re really a good team.”
Jackson has taken a right-minded approach to the point guard position by stressing “team.” By the way, he says that he is right-handed -- even though he shoots jumpers and free throws left-handed -- which accounts for the confidence that he has in shooting floaters or layups with his right hand.
“When they force me away (from his left hand),” he said with a grin, “I don’t care.”
Jackson has been smiling a lot; a sign that he feels much more comfortable this season. “I just enjoy the wins,” he said, the grin widening. “This is just the beginning. We’ve got a long ways to go. But I take it all with pride and joy.
“It’s a blessing to be in this position and a blessing to be on this team.”