The turning point for Ryan point guard Gilbert Jackson came in eighth grade when the rosters for his middle school’s basketball teams were announced.
Jackson was relegated to the “B” team, based on his skill level.
The senior says he could barely shoot. He says he couldn’t make a left-handed layup “to save my life,” so he was limited to finishing layups with his right hand. Placed on the second-tier team, he was determined to fix the holes in his game.
“I realized that I don’t want to be below everybody else — I want to be better than everybody else,” Jackson said. “So I kept that mind-set, and look where I’m at now.”
Jackson is Ryan’s starting point guard and leading scorer, and he’ll try to lead the Raiders (13-10, 0-4 District 5-5A) to their first district win at 7:30 tonight at Hebron.
But what’s grown the most in Gilbert Alan Jackson III may not be his ability to knock down jump shots or left-handed layups. It’s a newfound confidence that didn’t exist a few years ago, or even early last season.
Ryan senior guard Montarius Banks remembers meeting Jackson when the two were in elementary school, playing basketball at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center. He said Jackson would attack the basket “all wild.”
“Back then, he really wasn’t confident about what he was doing,” Banks said. “But now he’s got all the confidence in the world.”
When Jackson was a freshman, he continued to grow and his athleticism and quickness were apparent to Ryan coach Bryce Overstreet. He came off the bench for the freshman team and scored points in rapid succession.
Overstreet compared Jackson to former Detroit guard Vinnie Johnson, the sixth man for the Pistons when they won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.
Like Johnson, Jackson stepped in and stepped up his play for Ryan last season.
Last year, when the Raiders advanced to the Class 4A state tournament, Jackson played a key role off the bench. He scored 11 points against Little Elm in the regional quarterfinals and scored 17 against Fort Worth Arlington Heights in the regional final.
That playoff run proved to be another key moment for Jackson.
“I realized that I could play with these dudes,” Jackson said. “At first, I didn’t have the confidence of playing with the people I was going against. But once I started getting loose and stuff, I started getting confidence that I can play with these dudes, and that’s when it hit.”
With the seniors who led the Raiders to the state tournament now departed, Jackson has become Ryan’s main offensive threat.
He is scoring a team-high 13 points per game, is shooting 57 percent from the field and averages a team-high 2.8 steals a game. Jackson is one of only four players to have appeared in all of Ryan’s 23 games this season.
Overstreet said that while Jackson has developed on the court, it’s his mentality that’s allowed him to step into a leadership role for the Raiders.
“His skill set has continued to get better, but I think more than anything, you combine that with his overall confidence, that’s what’s allowed him to be our leading scorer,” Overstreet said.
But while his game’s gotten better, some things haven’t changed. If there’s one thing Jackson’s been jokingly chided for throughout his life, it’s his inability to finish words.
“It’s a very unique ability that he has,” Overstreet said. “He fails to annunciate the end of nearly every word he says. He’s kind of known for that. ... It’s how he talks.”
Banks, his childhood friend, agreed.
“It’s hard to explain,” Banks said of his teammate’s unique speech pattern.
As Jackson talks, his voice trails at the end of each word. When asked about it, he threw his head back and laughed.
“I finish my words,” Jackson said. “It’s just the way I say it that makes people laugh. I guess that’s what it is.”
His ability to finish at the rim and produce offensively is no longer in question. Now Jackson will be called upon to help his team return to the postseason.
“He wasn’t the man last year,” Overstreet said. “This year, a lot more is asked of him, and we go as he goes.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .