Off Court with Tiffany Jackson
After Tiffany Jackson was selected as the 2004 National Freshman of the Year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and ESPN.com, one would think that the pressures of continuing that success would be a burden on the 6-3 forward's frame. One would think.
Not only has Jackson continued that dominance into her sophomore year by averaging 17.1 points per game overall (20.0 ppg in Big 12 action) with eight rebounds and 3.1 steals per game while shooting an impressive 57 percent from the floor, but she dismisses the idea of extra pressure being placed on her shoulders.
"I didn't really feel pressure to succeed at the beginning of the season at all," noted Jackson, who also is a candidate for National Player of the Year and All-America honors. "As the season has progressed, I am feeling more pressure to be more vocal on the court - but not necessarily feeling extra pressure to do more on the court. That's because on any given night, anyone on our team can step up, and we are all learning to rely on each other every time down the court."
Jackson's improvement on the court can be traced to her dedication to practice and willingness to heed advice from her coaches.
"I think Tiffany's biggest improvement has come in practice. She pays more attention to detail this year, and that has come with a year of maturity and experience," said Associate Head Coach Karen Aston.
Jackson's transformation from heralded high school All-American to one of the premiere college players in the game has come under the tutelage of Hall of Fame Coach Jody Conradt, Aston, and assistant coaches Kathy Harston and Travis Mays. When the Longhorns got off to a sluggish start to the year and stood 8-5 before going 4-1 in the last five contests, Jackson found herself in the middle of opponent's defensive game plans and had to rely on the coaching staff to help her break out of the funk.
"She has improved her game throughout the season with counter-moves to adjust to how defenses play her, since they focus on her more now," added Conradt. "Tiffany has such a high basketball IQ and plays with so much energy. She takes her talent and athleticism and is working hard to make necessary adjustments every day."
Jackson, who was just named the Big 12 Player of the Week Monday after a two-game stretch of 52 points, 23 rebounds three blocks and eight steals in wins over Oklahoma and Missouri, echoed her coaches' sentiments.
"Coach Aston has helped me a lot with my footwork, and Coach Conradt has helped me a lot with my shot, such as how to improve my release and follow-through," Jackson noted. "Last year and earlier in the year, defenses tried to push me around because I wasn't physical enough, and now since I've started using my quickness better, they start sending double-teams because they can't push me around anymore. They also would dare me to shoot, but now that I'm starting to show that I can hit shots, they play me tighter."
Jackson displayed that improvement in the Longhorns two match-ups against Baylor. In the first game, Jackson finished with nine points on three-for-13 shooting; yet, a short two weeks later, Jackson worked hard on her countermoves and emerged as a huge presence in the Longhorns' upset win over No. 4 Baylor (69-55), dominating play inside with 18 points on seven-for-12 shooting to go along with eight boards and two blocks.
"I've had to learn quickly this year because we started losing. The coaches really helped me learn and improve my game with lots of drills in practice," Jackson said. "In the second game against Baylor, I watched a lot the tape from the first game and saw how they played me. Our coaches pointed out a few things and I went out there and made the necessary adjustments. It's a learning process for me every day, and I understand that."
Jackson deals with the demands of school and basketball by relying on a few tried-and-true methods of relaxation: sleeping, listening to music, and having fun with her teammates.
"There are not enough hours in the day for me to sleep! I always say one of my favorite things to do outside of basketball is sleep. I don't think anyone can understand that. I think college has made it even worse, but I've always been like that - needing so much sleep." laughed Jackson.
"As for music, Jay-Z is my favorite artist, but I always get into arguments with my teammates about his music, especially with Coco (Reed) Nina (Norman) and Mercedes (Williams). It's all in good fun."
In the classroom, Jackson is enjoying taking classes in the communications and public relations field. Effervescent and comfortable in front of the media lights and cameras, Tiffany hopes to become a sports analyst one day.
"Right now I'm taking some public relations and advertising classes, and it is fun to see what each field of communications is about so I can make a decision about what it is I enjoy. I know that one of my highlights so far this year was when we took a tour of the ESPN studios in Connecticut a few weeks ago and met some of the ESPN producers and (women's basketball analyst) Lisa Leslie," Jackson said.
With two-plus years left on the 40 Acres, Jackson plans to use that time to continue improving her game so she can help bring Texas its first NCAA title since UT's illustrious 34-0 perfect season in 1985-86.
"I have to continue to grow the next two years and improve my game so that I can help our team win a national championship. That is my ultimate goal," Jackson concluded.
And by putting the ball into the hands of this always-improving and bona fide All-America and National Player of the Year candidate will go a long way to helping the Longhorns reach that ultimate goal - the NCAA national title.