Tiffany Jackson: Tree in Big D
National Player of the Year finalist Tiffany Jackson's playing career has almost come full circle - her basketball path began in Dallas, and tonight she is back in Big "D" leading the No. 13/11 ranked Longhorns (22-8) into NCAA Tournament second round action against SEC power Georgia (23-9).
Jackson emerged as a high school All-America star at nearby Duncanville High School. As a senior in 2002-03, the explosive 6-3 power forward led the team to the Texas Class 5A title while averaging 16.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. Jackson displayed natural talent as both an athlete and a leader, and it was these qualities that she has brought to the Longhorns lineup the last two year.
Since her arrival at Texas, Jackson has become one of the cornerstones of a Texas squad that is looking to make a deep run in the postseason. Luckily for Jackson, postseason play brings her back to her hometown of Dallas where she helped lead third-seeded Texas in to the 21st NCAA Championship appearance in school history.
"I'm really excited to be home playing in front of all my family and friends," Jackson said. "I have a personal little cheering section of about 20 people, and it was a lot of fun Saturday to hear everyone cheering when we played Oral Roberts. I expect we'll all have a great cheering section again for our Georgia game."
What could be more fun for Jackson than playing the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championships in a familiar city and in a familiar arena?
Home of the 2003 and 2004 Big 12 Championships, Reunion Arena served as the first venue in which Jackson experienced the excitement of postseason play a year ago. In the Big 12 Tournament as a rookie, she averaged 14.3 ppg and 6.3 rpg, and helped the Longhorns reach the championship game against Oklahoma. Her performance earned her a spot on the five-member Big 12 All-Tournament Team - the only Texas player so honored.
With such positive results in Dallas a year ago, it is easy to believe that Jackson would be more confident in her game and less affected by her surroundings when playing at Reunion.
"Being in new surroundings has a big affect on how I play," Jackson admitted. "I'm familiar with playing in Reunion Arena, so it's great to be able to open the tournament in a place that I am comfortable playing in and know there will be a large fan base supporting us."
With a large burnt orange contingent in the stands of Reunion Arena on Saturday afternoon, Jackson scored 13 points and recorded nine rebounds in Texas' 64-47 first-round win over 14th-seeded Oral Roberts. It should be no surprise to see these stats as they are comparable to the ones posted when she last played at Reunion.
Jackson and the Longhorns have had a rollercoaster of a year, but they finished the regular-season strong with a 13-2 record in the last 15 games. The focus now is on winning and advancing.
"Being a part of the NCAA tournament is a huge accomplishment for this team," Jackson said. "We've worked hard all year to be here and we will continue to work hard because during this time of the year, it's either win or go home. We will not be satisfied with going home any time soon."
Dallas will always be home for Jackson, but Austin is her new home and the place she would like to return to with a national championship in hand; a run to the NCAA title which began in familiar surroundings - her home city of Dallas.
It is when this happens that the circle will be complete.