In 2010, a young kid named Joe Jackson stepped onto the Memphis Tigers Campus for the first time as a college student.
A highly-touted, five-star local product from White Station High School, the Memphis kid opted to play college basketball for the team he grew up watching. From day one, Jackson planned on being the Tigers’ starting point guard and eventually won the job, making 27 starts in his freshman campaign.
Three years and 82 starts later, Jackson has become the Tigers most valuable player and a fan favorite. Now as a senior, he’ll be counted on to lead a very deep Memphis squad in their first season in the AAC. Expectations around the program are as high as they have been since John Calipari was the coach, and how far the Tigers go this year will greatly hinge on the play of Jackson.
The nation’s top prospects have more pressure on them than others as everyone expects them to immediately come in and be the best player on the team. As we all know, that’s not how it always happens. Recruiting is hit or miss and many top prospects never pan out. But before they ever step on campus, fans put on the pressure with unrealistically high expectations, and many of the players simply can’t handle it.
Jackson is no stranger to this. Coming into his first year, many fans and media outlets expected him to light up the scoreboard and blow by every guy who challenged him.
When he finished his freshman year averaging 9.9 PPG, critics came out of the wood works. His sophomore year was filled with more fan displeasure and turmoil, as he started less games (19) and even took a bench role for some time, though he improved to 11.0 PPG and won the C-USA Tournament MVP.
Rumors circulated that he was thinking about transferring, but ultimately, he came back for his junior season.
Last year, all of his hard work finally came to fruition. He posted career highs in points (13.6), assists (4.8) and rebounds (3.3) on his way to being named the 2012-13 C-USA Player of the Year.
This was the guy we had been waiting for. Jackson, was unstoppable at times, driving to the basket and finishing or finding the open man. He demanded respect outside the 3-point line and off the dribble, while consistently creating wide-open shots for teammates.
Jackson also etched his name in Tiger lore, surpassing the 1,000-point mark for his career and becoming the first player in conference history to win the Tournament MVP two years in a row.
He finally showed us all why he was rated so highly coming out of high school. That, of course, equals even bigger expectations for his final hoo-rah. Jackson is undoubtedly the leader of this team, and Memphis goes as he goes. The Tigers will more than likely enter the season in the top-15, and fans are looking for a deep run in March.
Yes, there are other seniors on this team, but none have a more important role than Jackson.
His confidence is at an all-time high, as is his game. Jackson will be tested regularly with the Tigers entering their first season in the AAC. They face teams such as the Connecticut Huskies and the reigning NCAA champion Louisville Cardinals. If Jackson continues his upward trajectory in his final season, 2013-14 could be a memorable one.
He has continually improved his scoring capabilities and with a slew of talent surrounding him, he could post numbers upwards of 15-plus PPG and over five assists a contest. His most impressive jump last year was his aggressiveness. Jackson finally utilized his lightning-quick speed to get to the basket and score easy buckets.
The once five-star recruit has had some bumps in the road, but he has responded to all of the adversity that has come his way. Jackson is primed for a big senior year, and don’t be surprised if he competes for the AAC Player of the Year.