Thursday, October 24, 2002

Xavier's Jackson improving by leaps

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Keith Jackson doesn't leap tall buildings in a single bound. Nor does he defy gravity - completely. But he is the best athlete on the Xavier basketball team, says the coaching staff. His jaw-dropping slam dunks in practice further demonstrate that fact, which is why Jackson could find himself playing a variety of positions off the bench this season.

Keith Jackson stretches before practice.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        “I'm not really concerned about positions,” said Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore. “I know what I can do, and I know my limitations.”

        In terms of potential, those limitations are few.

        “He's one the best athletes I've ever coached,” Xavier coach Thad Matta said. “He is a tremendous athlete. Just his dunks, it's amazing how high he jumps.”

        Being a great athlete doesn't necessarily equal being a great basketball player - at least not at first. Full of talent but not experience, Jackson struggled at times last season. Despite leading reserves in minutes played with an average of 16.5, he grabbed just 1.8 rebounds a game, which limited opportunities for more playing time. He had a nonexistent outside shot and didn't attempt a 3-pointer all season.

        Improvements in both areas might be what keeps him on the court this season.

Jackson talks with Romain Sato.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        “Keith is shooting the ball better, and he's rebounding the ball better,” Matta said. “I think last year at one point in January he had one defensive rebound on the season, and he's doing a good job on the boards this year. That's been a huge boost for us.”

        That is what Jackson is all about right now. In a year or two, he sees himself in the spotlight that is currently reserved for Musketeers such as David West, Romain Sato and Lionel Chalmers. But this season, Jackson will be happy if he can make a difference when he is on the floor.

        “My job is to give a boost, whatever kind of boost that is,” Jackson said. “It doesn't have to be scoring or rebounding. It can just be getting a stop when we need a stop. That's how I look at it when I come into the game. Something's got to happen.”

        But nobody is sure from what position Jackson will make things happen. During Sunday's Musketeer Madness, Jackson started at his natural swingman position and rotated through point and shooting guards spots as well.

        “I kind of like the fact that you can use me for everything instead of just letting me stick to one thing,” Jackson said. “It was the same way last year. I really didn't know until game time. I didn't know where I was playing or whom I was going to be guarding. Because I play so many positions (and) I can do a little of everything, Coach might throw me into a position and say, "Go in for him.'

        “I consider myself to be the sixth man, and I look forward to having that same role this year.”

        As long as there isn't too much time at point guard.

        “I'm not really comfortable fully playing the point yet,” Jackson said. “I will do it. I don't mind pushing the ball up the court. That's something I have to work on next summer.”

        Jackson enjoys being the sixth man, but it's not a role that's always well received by the local fan base that has followed him since his high school days at Purcell Marian High School.

        “They think I'm the best thing going, so they think I should be playing the whole game, shooting 30 shots like Allen Iverson,” Jackson said. “They're not in the system, so of course they wouldn't know exactly what's going on.”

        But he appreciates the fan loyalty and even gets an autograph request now and then.

        “I had my third-grade teacher show up (at Musketeer Madness) and ask for my autograph,” Jackson said. “I enjoy running into people like that. Just the reception I got when they called my name, not even being a starter; I think I got as loud of a reception as David West and Lionel Chalmers and Sato. It makes me feel good.”



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