'V' is for versatile: All-America hoops standout Tiffany Jackson
Ever since she stepped foot on the Erwin Center court, Texas fans knew what a special talent Tiffany Jackson was. Coming to UT with tremendous high school All-America accolades and a 5A state championship, she has not disappointed the Longhorn faithful.
Honored as the best freshman in the nation two years ago (by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and ESPN.com), the 6-3 versatile Jackson has All-America honors and candidacy for all three National Player of the Year awards to her credit now.
Combine her ability to guard both under the basket and along the perimeter with her gift of maneuvering past defenders with a host of offensive moves - with a great work ethic and her rebounding and shot-blocking dominance - and you get a well-rounded player in Jackson. This versatility is praised by her teammates and coaches and feared by opponents.
"I think Tiffany is the most versatile player out there in college basketball because she can bring the ball up and down the court at 6-3," noted senior point guard Nina Norman. "She's very quick and active--she can guard a post like a post and she can guard a guard like a guard. Tiffany has a combination of size and athleticism like that is rarely found in college basketball."
Jackson, the Longhorns' leading scorer and rebounder and steals leader the last two seasons, is a rarity in the Big 12 Conference as she averages a double-double in scoring and rebounding in league competition (14.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg). A right ankle injury, suffered last Saturday (Feb. 4) against Colorado, has kept her off the court since then. She missed her first ever collegiate game Wednesday night, and her lack of presence was felt as UT lost to the Aggies, snapping a 31-game homecourt win streak against Big 12 opponents in the process. Jackson's status for Sunday's game against formidable No. 4 Connecticut (2 p.m. Central, on ESPN2) is day-to-day.
Prior to the ankle injury - her biggest current roadblock - the biggest obstacle Jackson has had to overcome this season is not the double- and triple-teams she faces each game, but the challenge of leading a group of seven freshmen and acclimating them to the college game. Nonetheless, Jackson has proved that she can handle anything thrown in her direction.
"They say if you want to be the best, you have to play with the best. I think we [the freshmen posts] are right on track of getting better every day since we get to learn from one of the best post players in the nation," noted rookie Aubry Cook. "What makes Tiffany such a great player to learn from is the perseverance she shows. You have to keep playing hard and never stop, because if she ever catches you, she'll get on you and make you play even harder than you think you can."
"Given the situation Tiffany was put into this year, she's done a great job handling the pressure of sharing her knowledge and experience with the freshmen," agreed Norman. "One of Tiffany's strengths is that she follows up her words with the way she plays; she's a great leader by example and we all see from Tiffany that hard work really does lead to being a great basketball player."
"Coach Conradt told me this year that my next step in basketball growth was to be a leader and help make everyone around me better," Jackson stated. "I accepted it right away. I am working hard to add elements to my game, and I appreciate being given the leadership role as well. Our schedule is the toughest in the nation, and preparation is so important. I am trying to stress that every day."
Perhaps the best way to measure Jackson is not through her versatile numbers (14.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 54 steals, and 32 blocks) or by the double-double she is averaging in Big 12 play for the second straight year (14.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg in the league) - but by what she adds to the Longhorns by her court presence.
"Her offensive production is not where any of us would like it to be because she gets double- and triple-teamed so much, but Tiffany's versatility and explosiveness are reasons why she is defended that way," notes UT assistant coach Kathy Harston. "When you look at her production over the years, her rebounding stands out more than anything because she is such a hard worker who will not stop playing until the final buzzer."
And, the Longhorn coaches are quick to credit Jackson with being another coach on the court. Conradt repeatedly says that "Tiffany has a brilliant mind for the game. Her basketball intelligence is superior to so many in the game."
Harston adds that "Tiffany is really out-going, but this season she has been working on being more vocal on the court. She is like another coach on the floor because she understands the game really well. Tiffany sees stuff that we sometimes miss and sometimes has more control over the team than any of the coaches do, especially during games."
These outstanding qualities are admired by her teammates.
"Tiffany is one of the most competitive and aggressive players on the team, but she's still very loving to her teammates. She won't settle for anything less than perfect. I'm excited that I get to play with her for two years," said Cook.
While it may be a year away, when Jackson finishes her career at the Forty Acres, it will be a hard task to find a replacement. Given the success she has already had, it is no surprise that Jackson will continue to see more awards coming in her direction.
However, the coaches do not just use the awards and recognitions as a basis for evaluating Jackson but look at the person and player she has evolved into.
"From a coach's perspective, Tiffany has been through so much and found success many times," noted Harston. "Whether it is a non-conference or Big 12 game, Tiffany understands what can happen night in, night out in the world of basketball. That, from an experience and coaches' standpoint, is priceless--you can't put a price tag on Tiffany Jackson's worth."