|Dukes' Jackson grew up fast after shootings|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 03 March 2009 10:26|
The Duquesne University point guard walks daily down the street where he and four teammates were shot 2 1/2 years ago, one of them rescued by Jackson during the worst incident of on-campus violence inflicted upon a major college basketball program.
When he arrives at his room, he is greeted by a former teammate who was too seriously injured during the shootings to keep playing, yet is on schedule to graduate partly because of Jackson's unwavering allegiance.
In Duquesne's arena, Jackson dribbles beneath banners that someday may remind future Dukes teams of how his excellent senior season accelerated the turnaround of a program that hadn't been successful since the 1970s. When a workout is done and he takes off his wristband, Jackson sees the tiny scar that reminds him not only of the violence, but of how in recovering he became a better person and athlete.
vier and Jim Baron of Rhode Island to be one of the nation's most underrated players, plays his final regular-season home game Wednesday night against Saint Louis.
To Jackson, it wasn't all that long ago he was an immature freshman who found it a challenge to play for the worst of the 92 teams that have worn Duquesne jerseys.
Now, he is a senior largely responsible for the oft-overlooked revival of a team that could play in a postseason tournament for only the second time since 1981.
Adversity can expose a player's weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but also his strengths. For the 22-year-old Jackson, it revealed toughness, passion and resolve that he may not have known existed before the Sept. 16, 2006, shootings that left two former players seriously wounded. Jackson was only grazed on the wrist, but the emotional damage was far greater.
``Aaron really didn't handle it well on or off the court emotionally at first,'' Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. ``But he's really grown up. He is respected by his teammates, and they look up to him. He's taken something that was very bad and made something very good out of it. ``
A four-time Atlantic 10 player of the week this season, the 6-foot-4 Jackson is averaging 18.2 points (19.4 in league play), 5.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists while leading Duquesne (17-10) and its eight freshmen to within one victory of the school's first 18-win season in 28 years.
``He's a tremendous player,'' Baron said after Jackson scored 16 of Duquesne's final 20 points, finishing with 24, before Rhode Island escaped with a 73-71 win on Sunday.
Jackson is one of the rare college players who made a quantum leap late in his career. The determination to get better came after he averaged a disappointing 9 points last season on a 17-13 team that Jackson felt underachieved.
``I put up a poster in my room that says `Not on My Watch,' `` said Jackson, the only one of the five shooting victims still on the team. ``I felt like we let opportunities slip and I don't want that in my last year. I'm going to take control of things when I have to.''
While working out twice daily during the offseason, Jackson also played in Pittsburgh's summer league and unexpectedly led his team to the championship and won MVP honors, beating out players such as Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields of Pitt.
Jackson carried his upgraded game and improved confidence into the season. He has been Duquesne's leading scorer in five of its seven games the past month, scoring at least 21 points each time.
``To me, he's the Atlantic 10 player of the year,'' Everhart said. ``Nobody in this league means more to their team than he does. I really admire and respect the way he's represented our program and our university.''
upset on Feb. 7, Duquesne's first in 35 years over a team ranked so high.
``He was terrific,'' Miller said. ``He's a person who plays with a lot of confidence.''
Jackson wants to end his career in a postseason tournament, especially after beginning it on what may have been the worst team in any upper-tier NCAA conference in 2005-06, when Duquesne went 3-24. Several more victories, one of them in the A-10 tournament, might get the Dukes into the NIT, the CBI or the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
``It's something I'll look back on 10-15 years from now, and say, `Man, that was a remarkable stage of my life,' `` Jackson said.
He'll have similar memories of roommate Sam Ashaolu, a once-promising power forward from Toronto who was the most seriously wounded of the players shot. Ashaolu has bullet fragments in his head that left him unable to play, yet he stayed in school and will earn his degree later this year or next.
That's something the other shooting victories - Shawn James and Kojo Mensah, who skipped their senior seasons to turn pro, plus Stuard Baldonado - won't achieve at Duquesne.
be a lot of tears, a special day, when he graduates.''
A day his teammates believe was made possible partly because of Jackson's loyalty to a friend who never played beside him, yet will always be seen by Jackson as his teammate in life.
Jackson showed a similar devotion the night of the shootings by ignoring bullets flying around him and carrying the 240-pound forward Baldonado to safety. Baldonado recovered from severe injuries, but left school in 2007 without playing. Two men who were teenagers at the time drew prison sentences for the shootings, which followed a school party crashed by some non-students carrying guns.
``With Aaron this year, we've all kind of watched him and tried to do what he did,'' teammate Bill Clark said. ``He's our leader and someone we follow. He's made all of us better.''