Thursday, April 3, 2003

Marquette's Jackson won't sneak up on Kansas

By Arnie Stapleton
The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE - The Kansas Jayhawks vow to avoid the mistake made by Kentucky's Marquis Estill. They know precisely who Marquette's Robert Jackson is.

Marquette's Robert Jackson made UK's Marquis Estill pay for insulting him.
(AP/Charlie Neibergall photo)
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Before the Midwest Regional final, Estill insulted Jackson, saying he didn't remember the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center who played three years at Mississippi State before transferring to Marquette.

The truth is, Jackson had made a name for himself in the Southeastern Conference, averaging 12.3 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore and 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds as a junior.

Jackson responded to Estill's slight by scoring 24 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and holding Kentucky's big man to 10 points in Marquette's 83-69 upset of the Wildcats, who had won 26 straight.

"I'm pretty sure he's heard of me now," Jackson said afterward.

So have the Jayhawks, loud and clear.

"We feel like he's a pretty good player," Kansas forward Nick Collison said. "We saw how he played against Kentucky. He's a guy you have to keep away from the basket, keep him from getting the rebound. ...

"He's a big guy. That's their whole defense, to be physical and beat you up inside, and he does that as well as any of them."

Kansas plays Marquette in the Final Four in New Orleans on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the championship game.

Jayhawks forward Jeff Graves, who has started since Wayne Simien's season-ending shoulder injury in February, said there is no danger that Marquette will be taken lightly.

"We're not going to make the mistake of overlooking anybody," Graves said. "We're to the time of year now where we can't make any mistakes in any part of the game."

Jackson is averaging better than 15 points and seven rebounds as a senior with the Golden Eagles. He's a big reason the school is in its first Final Four since Al McGuire coached the team to its only national title in 1977.

Jackson would have been playing pro ball by now had things gone the way he wanted when he was a senior at Milwaukee Washington High School.

Jackson wanted to stay near home and play for either Marquette or Wisconsin, but their coaches didn't spend much time trying to woo him.

He was recruited by Mississippi State assistant Rick Stansbury, who became the Bulldogs' coach in Jackson's freshman season.

Jackson averaged 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds that year, then had solid sophomore and junior seasons but wasn't happy.

"I just didn't feel like I was improving," he said. "I was doing things just because I was bigger and stronger than the other guys. But basically I was just playing with my back to the basket."

Stansbury granted Jackson's request to be released from his scholarship, and Jackson set his sights on Marquette and its new coach, Tom Crean.

"If you've only got one year left, why not go home?" Jackson said.

That way family members, including his 6-year-old daughter, could watch him play.

Most coaches frown on senior transfers because they have to sit out a year under NCAA guidelines and then contribute for only one season. But Crean eagerly welcomed Jackson.

"I was convinced after spending some time with him that he was committed to doing things to be an excellent player, to get his degree," Crean said. "I'd always heard good things about his work ethic and the way he loved to play when he'd be back in the summer to play in Milwaukee."

And there's no way Marquette would be 27-5 and in the Final Four without Jackson.

"I don't think it's a surprise that he's playing his best basketball right now, because he spent so much extra time studying film and trying to continue to learn things," Crean said. "He's so confident and so excited about what he's doing, and he's going to graduate here in a month, and it's just so incredible to see.

"Things have worked out great for us and for him. I think it's been a great partnership."

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Marquette's Jackson won't sneak up on Kansas
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