Joe Jackson hopes to add to his legend at Memphis during senior season

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Basketball means just a little bit more in the city of Memphis.

Tiger basketball faithful pack the FedEx Forum with 18,000-plus fans a night whether its Memphis Madness or a rivalry game against Tennessee, and for local kids like senior guard Joe Jackson, Memphis Tigers basketball is really the only thing that matters.

Memphis has a young and charismatic coach in Josh Pastner, but the Tigers have long been able to keep local Memphis talent home — regardless of the coach — and the tradition continues with Jackson, a former McDonald’s All-American and last season’s Conference USA Player of the Year.

“I was in such awe about coming to Memphis that I was going there regardless,” Jackson told NBC Sports. “I love Coach Pastner but I mean if the football coach was my basketball coach I would play for him, I’ll put it like that. When you’re from Memphis, people don’t understand until they come and live down here. It’s a way of living: Memphis basketball. Once you grow up in the city, you know.”

During his freshman season at Memphis, Jackson mentioned his desire to be remembered as a legend during an interview with ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil. Words like “legend” aren’t often mentioned by freshmen, but Jackson’s background in the basketball-rich history of Memphis allowed him to carry on with such lofty aspirations.

The 6-foot-1 point guard told O’Neil in that December, 2010, interview, “I want to be remembered,” Jackson said to O’Neil. “I want to be a legend. I want to be a hero. I want old people to see me on television and say, ‘Look at that kid. He made it. He did it. That’s who I want you to be like.”’

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s American Athletic Conference Preview)

Origin stories for legends often come with a difficult journey; Joe Jackson’s came with the baggage of being the first big-time local recruit to stay and play for the Tigers during the social media era.

After a celebrated high school career that included Mr. Basketball of Tennessee and amassing 3,451 points at local basketball powerhouse White Station High School, Jackson was up-and-down during his first two seasons at Memphis as he adjusted to the rigors of major college basketball while facing enormous local expectations.

“There hasn’t been a more scrutinized player, or pressure on a player, coming from the city than Joe Jackson,” Pastner told NBC Sports. “All these other guys that came before him were great players but they didn’t have the Twitter and the social media where everything was instant. I’m very proud of him, he’s come a long way. And he continues to get better.”

Although Jackson was inconsistent his first few seasons in college, he continued to work with Pastner. He thrived when the games really mattered, however, as Jackson always stepped up when it came time for the postseason. Jackson was the Conference USA Tournament MVP in his freshman and sophomore campaigns and credits Pastner for staying on him.

“It was rough early; just to play in college. He stayed on me. I feel like I worked for everything and I learned it from him. He doesn’t baby players. He made me better,” Jackson said of Pastner.

By Jackson’s junior season — his most complete season at Memphis — he helped the Tigers to a perfect 16-0 season in C-USA as the Tigers captured their second consecutive conference regular season title to go along with its third straight C-USA Tournament win with Jackson at the point. For the season, Jackson led the Tigers in scoring and assists and averaged 13.6 points, 4.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point range.

On top of his tremendous junior season, Jackson also earned his degree from Memphis in organizational leadership in three years as he spends his senior year working towards a minor in nonprofit development.

“Joe Jackson has had a marvelous three-year career to this point and I expect him to have a great senior year,” Pastner said. “I love where Joe’s come from, how far he’s progressed in every area. And to do what he’s been able to do and graduate in three years? I’m so proud of this young man.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

But for all that Joe Jackson has accomplished, is he a legend in Memphis?

The Tigers have only won one NCAA Tournament game with Jackson — last season’s 54-52 win over Saint Mary’s — and he might need to do more in the tournament this season to fully solidify his status.

Given Jackson’s and Memphis’ accomplishments, he and the Tigers shouldn’t be doubted this season as they go from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference. The American should prepare the Tigers for the postseason — and improve their seeding — thanks to the facing opponents like Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati.

The Tigers and Jackson feel prepared for the American and embrace the new competition it brings.

“It’s going to be a fun thing to play against a bunch of teams we’ve never played against and it’s going to be a challenge for us; more than we’ve ever had since I’ve been in school,” Jackson said. “We’re just looking forward to going out and playing basketball in front of a different crowd and atmosphere with more fans. We just want to play well and win the conference and get some well-deserved national attention. So it’s a great opportunity for us to do our thing as a team and go out my last year in the right fashion.”

The first three years of Joe Jackson’s career at Memphis will be a hard act to follow for his senior season, but the pressure that the local point guard once faced is behind him. Jackson earned his degree and has taken the Tigers to the postseason in each of his three years on campus.

The rest of Jackson’s mission to become a legend in Memphis will be icing on the cake to an already great career as he focuses on ending his career on a high note.

“To be from the city and to be a role model to the kids by not getting in trouble, getting through some struggles early in my career and just persevering, that shows people that I know how much it means to play on the Tigers, especially being from Memphis,” Jackson said. “I mean of course (I want to be a legend). I may be a legend here in the city of Memphis. That’s something you should want to be from your city. Just because Memphis basketball is ridiculous sometimes; I just feel like it’s so important to me. People look at me as a high school legend and now I want to be looked at as a college legend.”

Vanderbilt lands five-star forward Simi Shittu

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Vanderbilt continues to build a monster recruiting class under head coach Bryce Drew as five-star 2018 forward Simi Shittu pledged to the Commodores on Wednesday.

The second five-star commitment for Vanderbilt in the Class of 2018, Shittu joins top point guard prospect Darius Garland to form one of the best freshman combinations in the country for next season. The Commodores also have a top-150 forward in Aaron Nesmith.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Shittu is coming off of a monster summer in which he became a major problem and top-ten recruit. The No. 8 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, Shittu is a huge get and an instant starter for Vanderbilt next season.

By landing prospects like Garland and Shittu, Drew is also becoming a major player in a short amount of time as a high-major coach. Always a noted recruiter at the mid-major level at Valparaiso, now Vanderbilt is seeing Drew’s hiring workout as he’s bringing top talent to the program.

If Drew can continue to recruit like this then Vanderbilt could be in position to be in the top half of the SEC as the league has seen some of its rebuilds go poorly over the last few years.

Kansas still without freshman Billy Preston

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Kansas freshman Billy Preston has yet to make his debut for the Jayhawks and it appears he’ll have to wait a bit longer before that happens.

Head coach Bill Self met with media earlier this week to discuss the Preston situation, saying that nothing has changed about his status quite yet. Preston was previously suspended for violating a team rule when he missed the game against Tennessee State. Before Preston was set to debut against Kentucky in the Champions Classic he was also withheld from the contest after the revelation that Preston had been in a single-vehicle accident the previous weekend.

“I have actually been out, until I just pulled back in, so as of this morning, there was no movement. The last time you guys asked me was Friday and so you don’t work on Saturday or Sunday, so there is nothing new on that situation,” Self said.

“Sure, I’m worried,” Self also added. “I’m concerned and I do think that it can work itself, based on what I’ve been told. I also think that it obviously hadn’t happened yet.”

It’s uncertain when the next step in any of this will play out but Self doesn’t appear to be too concerned over it. Kansas has won without Preston so far but they could definitely use his size, scoring punch and overall depth to a team that isn’t very deep right now.

A matchup nightmare, Preston could help the Jayhawk offense while also giving Udoka Azubuike additional help on the glass and protecting the rim.

(H/t: Jesse Newell, Kansas City Star)

Brian Bowen not allowed to play at Louisville

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Louisville announced on Wednesday that freshman wing Brian Bowen will not be allowed to play at the school. The former McDonald’s All-American will be allowed to remain on scholarship but he can’t participate in any team activities.

Bowen was tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball this fall as an adidas company executive is alleged to have been part of a scheme to deliver $100,000 to Bowen’s family, according to court documents.

Bowen hired attorney Jason Setchen to fight the case and seek reinstatement as Setchen had experience dealing with college basketball scandals before. When DeQuan Jones was suspended from Miami after the Nevin Shapiro case in 2011, Setchen helped Jones re-gain his eligibility as Miami.

With this case, Bowen was not allowed back at Louisville as the school has fired head coach Rick Pitino and most of his previous staff. Athletic Director Tom Jurich also lost his job, so the Cardinals are definitely cleaning house and trying to detach themselves from anyone involved.

It will be interesting to see what Bowen opts to do in light of this news. He’s talented enough that other schools could want him, if he’s eligible, but he’s also a former five-star prospect who could have pro aspirations. But since Bowen won’t be playing this season, he also hasn’t had a chance to spotlight his game to potential pro suitors.

 

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

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LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.