Ball of fire

BC's Jackson flamboyant - and steady in clutch

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 12, 2009
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ATLANTA - The plane touched down late the day Reggie Jackson came to Boston College for his recruiting visit.

But when Eagles assistant coach Pat Duquette came to meet him, everything was fine.

Jackson relaxed.

He walked around to get a feel for the office.

He strolled into the gym and threw up a few shots to kill time. He was loose.

Then he went back to the office to meet the head coach.

He sat across the desk from Al Skinner, and to this day, he can remember his first impression: "Very intimidating."

The conversation wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

Skinner was telling him what to expect if he decided BC was the school for him.

He was telling Jackson how he'd fit into the team.

He was explaining exactly what BC basketball was.

But the whole time, Jackson recalls, Skinner was stone serious.

"I kept waiting for him to crack a smile," Jackson said.

He didn't get one out of Skinner until about lunchtime, when the coach decided to joke around a little.

If there was a sign of how different the two were, at least Jackson was able to see it early on.

It's not that Jackson's a prankster. He swears up and down that he's a church mouse. The shy, speak-when-spoken-to type.

On the court, though, he's a completely different person.

He's an explosion of energy. Sitting on the bench antsy to get in games, Jackson looks practically combustible. Once he's on the court, he's flapping his arms at the crowd, wagging his tongue at opponents, and flashing a 1,000-watt smile.

Skinner has been around basketball long enough to know Jackson's type.

He was once on the same team with one of them. "I once played with a great player, Julius Erving, who was not as flamboyant off the court as he was on the court," Skinner said.

It wasn't too long ago that Skinner was coaching a player cut from Jackson's cloth: Jared Dudley.

Dudley proved he could, as Skinner put it, engage the crowd and engage his opponents at the same time.

Coming off the bench, Jackson played a vital role in wins over No. 1 North Carolina (85-78) and No. 6 Duke (80-74), indicating he could do the same.

"If he's comfortable with it, we're comfortable," said Skinner. "That's fine. He still needs to remain focused. He still needs to execute. But if he can still execute in that manner, that's fine."

Since he was small, basketball has allowed Jackson to burst out of his shell.

He was an Army brat, born in Italy and raised in three states in the United States. One of his homes was in Valdosta, Ga., a couple of hours away from the Georgia Dome, site of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which begins today as BC opens against Virginia at 9:30 p.m.

Jackson learned quickly that whether it was his teammates or the fans who were watching, sports was a fast way to popularity. By his senior year at Palmer High in Colorado, he was scoring close to 30 points per game, pulling down nearly eight rebounds, and dishing out eight assists.

Coming to BC, though, he had to adjust.

His philosophy is "go."

Skinner's philosophy is "slow."

But from that first meeting in their office, Skinner was upfront.

"In the recruiting process, he understood that this is what it was going to be," Skinner said. "He was going to be given an opportunity, but he wasn't presented the idea that it was going to be his way."

It's something most of the BC guards have had to learn.

Tyrese Rice was like Jackson coming out of high school, a scoring guard who wanted to race up and down the court.

There was a point where he thought running Skinner's offense was restrictor-plate racing, but he eventually learned to play within it, and it turned him into one of the ACC's top players.

Jackson is willing to let the same thing happen to him.

"It's not that he doesn't want you to run," Jackson said. "He just wants you to know when to do it."

Skinner says it's about helping Jackson become a complete player. "My job is to give him an education about the game," Skinner said. "And he doesn't do that if we just continue to allow him to do whatever it is that he's best at."

What teams have seen so far this season is only a glimpse.

Jackson's 17 points stunned North Carolina and coach Roy Williams, who admittedly had no clue about Jackson before the game.

His 15 points against Duke smacked the Blue Devils senseless as well.

If anything, Skinner said he loves the fact that Jackson thrives in big-game situations.

"I'm glad he's been able to elevate his game to not be intimidated," Skinner said. "That obviously brings a tremendous amount of potential to what he could be. Those wins are very significant right now to our program, and he was able to elevate his game along with everyone else. So it really shows his potential."

At the same time, Skinner said, "A very dangerous noun for a coach is potential."

What's impressed Skinner most about Jackson is his willingness to fulfill it. As opposite as their styles are, it's never compromised the coaching dynamic.

"The fact of the matter is he's very coachable," said Skinner. "He's willing to expose himself to learn in a little bit of a different manner, and at the end of the day, it's going to make him a better player."

Were there growing pains? It all depends on your definition.

You say frustration. Skinner calls it learning.

"He's willing to be a student of the game," Skinner said. "I think that's what's going to allow him to be successful."

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