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.”

VIDEO: Presbyterian’s Toss for Tots night earns technical foul for charity

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Presbyterian College held an cool and unique fundraiser this week.

In a game against Toccoa Falls, the Blue Hose held what will now be an annual Toss for Tots event. It was simple: after the first basket of their game on Thursday night, fans in attendance were asked to throw a stuffed animal onto the court, with every stuffed animal earmarked for a local elementary school.

Presbyterian ate the technical foul for the cause:

In total, 108 stuffed animals were “donated”.

The program had partnered with Bailey Elementary School, where there are 103 students. On Friday, the team delivered every student at the school one of the stuffed animals for Christmas. Head coach Dustin Kerns told NBC Sports that the team spent some times with the kids today as well, reading to the team and putting a smile on their face.

“Proud of our team,” Kerns, who is in his first year with the program, said. The win against Toccoa Falls was the fifth in a row for the Blue Hose, the first time the program has accomplished that since going to the Division I level. They are not 6-5 on the season after winning five games a year ago. “It was fun seeing out program give back.”

Presbyterian Sports Information Dept
Presbyterian Sports Information Dept

Rape charges will not be filed after last year’s incident in Kansas basketball dorm

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The Douglas County District Attorney’s office will not file sexual assault charges stemming from a report that a 16-year old girl was raped nearly a year ago in the Kansas basketball dorm.

“After an exhaustive review of all available reports, evidence and testimony, our office has determined there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a sexual assault occurred,” District Attorney Charles Branson told the Lawrence Journal-World. “Unless additional evidence or reports come to light there is insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed.”

What’s more, a suspect in the investigation was never actually identified, the paper reported. All five witnesses in the rape report were members of the men’s basketball team. The incident allegedly occurred in McCarthy Hall, which is a dorm where 40 Kansas students live, including all members of the men’s basketball team.

No. 8 Kentucky maturing, more challenges ahead for freshmen

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t hidden his frustration about the learning curve of his latest group of talented freshmen.

And while the No. 8 Wildcats are starting play better, they’re bracing for more challenges ahead.

Kentucky has struggled to put away opponents such as Utah Valley, Vermont, Troy and Harvard, efforts that players and Calipari acknowledge have contributed to a perceived lack of national respect. On the other hand, their lone loss — a 65-61 setback to Kansas — showed their ability to compete with college basketball’s heavyweights.

“It was one of the big games they got to see,” sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “The feeling and high intensity of the game, people watching, the fight in a big game like that, it really started to hit. Some players really started to get rolling off of that.

“We’re starting to get better as a team, individuals are getting better and we’re trending upward and trying to stay on that path.”

Kentucky (8-1) has begun running away from opponents, a promising trend it hopes to continue against upcoming Power Five conference foes.

Saturday’s home game against Virginia Tech (9-1) opens a daunting year-ending stretch for the Wildcats that includes next weekend’s matchup against UCLA in New Orleans; their annual in-state rivalry showdown against Louisville on Dec. 29; and their Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

Though Calipari still hopes February will reveal Kentucky’s true strengths, he’s eager to see how the Wildcats stack up against the Atlantic Coast Conference Hokies, who lead the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game and rank second in 3-point shooting at 47 percent.

“They have three or four guys that can absolutely make 3s,” Calipari said Friday while listing other Tech strengths. “They’re looking for layups and kicking it out for 3s and they’re getting to the line because of it.

“They’re not afraid. They go on the road in big games. Their home games are craziness. This is plugged into our schedule at a time where we need to learn about us, and we will.”

After a busy November without much practice time, Kentucky has welcomed a lighter December schedule that has allowed the Wildcats more time for workouts and to build chemistry.

The Wildcats have a long way to go, but games such as last week’s 93-76 win over Monmouth are encouraging for Kentucky fans.

Besides continuing their solid shooting — the Wildcats rank 22nd at nearly 51 percent — redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo (23 points) and forward PJ Washington (20) posted career scoring highs against Monmouth. Kentucky also succeeded with a smaller lineup and has been effective playing a zone defense, which Calipari disdains but has used because of his team’s length.

“They’re as long as anybody in the country,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of Kentucky. “We’ll have to work really hard to get the same shots we’ve been getting.”

Kentucky remains short-handed with freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and guard Jemarl Baker (knee) sidelined by injuries. But the Wildcats appear to be developing depth.

They faced Monmouth without sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (sprained ankle) before starting guard Quade Green left in the second half after being poked in the eye. Both will be available against the Hokies and return knowing that the bench can fill the void after it combined for a season-high 27 points.

Granted, Monmouth is not a barometer for success against the likes of Tech, UCLA or Louisville. But considering Kentucky’s early struggles, any growth is welcome.

“We think highly of ourselves as a team,” Gabriel added. “I think we deserve more credit than we’re getting, so we’re going to go out there and try to earn it.”

Arizona State rising fast beyond the desert

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has taken college basketball by devilish hurricane, running and gunning its way into the national consciousness while igniting an often-blase local fan base.

Even the Sun Devils’ rivals down south have taken notice.

“Bobby Hurley, he’s en route right now to be one of the coaches talked about for national coach of the year because of what he’s done with their program,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the coach of his biggest rival. “He’s played a tough nonconference schedule. It shows some guts to play who they play. Their results speak really clearly. They might be underrated where they’re at right now.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, at least not yet.

The Sun Devils were expected to be better in Hurley’s third season in the desert. They returned three senior guards and finally got them some front-court help with the addition of Romello White and De’Quon Lake.

Kodi Justice, ASU’s 6-foot-5 guard, would no longer have to guard 7-footers. Arizona State would be better defensively and on the glass. The guards would not have to carry the entire load.

Even so, the Sun Devils were projected to be at the middle of the Pac-12, picked to finish sixth.

The big jump was supposed to be next season, when a trio of transfers will be eligible and could possibly lead the Sun Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

This breakneck band of Devils spun the narrative forward a year early.

Playing with a confidence bordering on cocky and with an offensive freedom afforded them by their coach, the Sun Devils have pushed their way into the national spotlight.

They made a blip by beating Xavier, No. 15 at the time but now No. 10 in the AP Top 25 . Blew the Musketeers away, actually, turning a 15-point first-half deficit into a 102-86 rout with an onslaught of fast breaks and 3-pointers.

Arizona State next moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008-09, coming in at No. 20 after the win over Xavier. The Sun Devils climbed four spots the next week.

The catapult launched last Sunday: Arizona State 95, No. 2 Kansas 85. At Allen Fieldhouse.

One of the biggest wins in program history led to another bit of history: A No. 5 ranking this week, ASU’s highest since reaching No. 3 in 1980-81. The Sun Devils even garnered the first No. 1 votes as a program. Five of ’em, actually.

Now Arizona State is 9-0 and being mentioned as a possible national-title contender. Yeah, really.

“I knew the success was going to be better, but you don’t expect necessarily when you look at a schedule to run the table up to this point, and beat the type of teams we’ve beaten,” Hurley said. “So you just appreciate it and then you kind of move on and get ready for the next battle.”

Arizona State’s success starts with its quartet of fearless guards, turning Arizona State into “Guard U.”

With carte blanche from Hurley to shoot from anywhere at almost any time, they’ve gone from carrying the load last season to ferrying the Sun Devils closer to college basketball’s upper echelon.

Tra Holder has transformed himself from steady freshman to unquestioned, sometimes nasty senior floor leader. He scored 40 points against Xavier and leads Arizona State with 21.2 points per game. He also grabs 5.6 rebounds, dishes out 5.2 assists and won consecutive Pac-12 player of the week honors, a first by a Sun Devil since James Harden in 2008.

Shannon Evans II followed Hurley from Buffalo, had to sit out a season as a transfer and was solid as a junior, averaging 15 points per game. The 6-1 guard had become go-to guy 1-A this season, second on the team with 19 points while matching Holder in assists. Big shots? He’s go those, too, including a clutch 3 to kill a Kansas rally in one of the loudest atmospheres in the game.

Justice plays with Pete Maravichian flair, has a range that seems to extend to the opposing team’s free-throw line.

Then there’s Remy Martin. The freshman guard is more spiced rum than cognac, playing with a confidence and intensity well beyond his years.

Martin treats irritation by the opposing team’s point guard as the highest honor, often nodding his bouncy hair in approval when he officially finds his way under their skin. He was the spark off the bench against Kansas, finishing with 21 points and five steals.

“They are now freed up to be who they are more,” Hurley said. “I think they would have shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

That help is here and the Sun Devils are running and gunning with it.

Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap

Oklahoma State dismisses two players

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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State has dismissed junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson from the team for failing to meet unspecified standards set by the program.

Coach Mike Boynton says he could not “make compromises in our core values when it comes to individual players.” Dillard and Dawson were suspended before the season for reasons the school has not disclosed. Dawson missed one game and Dillard missed the first five.

Oklahoma State (7-2) faces No. 19 Florida State (9-0) in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday.