Junior transfer Pierre Jackson brings another gear to Baylor's offense.
Since James Naismith hung the first peach basket on a wall and invented the game in 1891, basketball has been a game for the tall. In that sense, head coach Scott Drew's roster is one of the best-equipped in the country, with a regular rotation that features four players standing 6-9 or taller.
But for all that height, the most important player on the team might be the one you're most likely to overlook (literally): the generously listed 5-foot-10 Pierre Jackson. What Jackson lacks in size, however, he more than makes up for in energy and intensity.
"He's a little energy plug," says fellow guard Brady Heslip. "He's able to make a quick play and change the momentum of the game, then get a steal and change the momentum even more. ... He can pass, he can score, he can really guard people. He's a really smart basketball player."
"He can do whatever he needs to do on the court," echoes senior Quincy Acy. "He brings clutchness, toughness. He wants the ball in his hands."
Those hands have brought good fortune several times already this year. Jackson hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to force overtime against West Virginia in a game the Bears eventually won, then hit game-winning shots in the final 30 seconds to clinch wins against Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
And in one of his first games as a Bear, the diminutive guard blocked a BYU 3-pointer at the buzzer to end Baylor's 86-83 win over the Cougars in Provo. Yet, Jackson came close to missing out on all of this.
After a sterling high school career, Jackson's academics prevented the Las Vegas native from signing with a Division-I program right away, heading off his first shot at college glory. Instead, he followed the recommendation of a former teammate and enrolled at the College of Southern Idaho.
And then ... "As soon as I got there, I hurt myself," Jackson recalls. "I hit my elbow on the floor real hard. The doctors said it was kind of broken before, because I fall a lot, but this time I shattered it completely."
The injury took away Jackson's biggest weapon: his scoring prowess. He says he led the state in scoring for much of his senior year of high school, but limited by his elbow, Jackson was held to fewer than 8 points a game as a freshman.
"It changed my game a lot," reflects Jackson today. "Coming out of high school, I used to score a lot, but now I couldn't shoot. I was just distributing the ball and getting to the rim."
Again, Jackson could have been discouraged. Instead, he found the silver lining.
"It was a blessing in disguise, a big blessing. It made me a better team player all-around, and I'm really glad I went through that."
As a sophomore, Jackson bounced back to lead his team in scoring as CSI won the junior college national championship. It was during that postseason run that Baylor came into the picture, eventually offering a scholarship that Jackson quickly accepted.
He began his first year at Baylor coming off the bench behind incumbent starter A.J. Walton, but quickly began to see more playing time and eventually claimed the starting role in late January. From then through the end of the regular season, he averaged 15.2 pts and 5.9 assists per game, leading the team in both categories over that time.
"I've just tried to make the biggest impact I could to try and help us win, no matter how many minutes or points I have," he says. "We're like family, like brothers. I'd do anything for these guys, and they'd do the same for me."
Family means a lot to Jackson. More than 1,200 miles from home, he still talks to his grandmother, Linda Allen, every day --
sometimes multiple times a day.
"She's my everything. I don't know where I'd be without her," he says. "She put the basketball in my hands first when I was real little. Now she doesn't really care about me playing basketball; she wants me to get my education. She's my rock."
In fact, Jackson and his grandmother rarely talk about the game at all.
"She tells me about her soap operas, and about my little brother. She wants to hear how I'm doing in school, am I getting married, stuff like that. She talks about whatever she sees, and I listen. She's a very smart woman and helps me with a lot of stuff."
Jackson says his grandmother listens to most of his games online. If he can add a few more big plays to his resume like the ones he's already made in a Baylor uniform, she might get to listen to the Bears make a deep run all the way through March Madness.