Sept. 28, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– It’s easy to identify the great leader from the rest. Sometimes all it takes is one look.
“I went to see him one time, just on a regular school visit, up in Worcester Academy. Jarrett was out there with the soccer team,” recalled Hewitt then Georgia Tech’s basketball’s coach. “He was out there as loud and enthusiastic and playing hard and communicating with his teammates as much as he would have been if he was on the basketball court.
“He was just a natural leader, his love for the game of basketball and appreciation of being a part of the game and his leadership skills were what really attracted my attention,” Hewitt said, adding, with a laugh, “once you get past the talent.”
Jack’s immense talent, combined with his tremendous leadership skills and tireless work ethic added up to three unforgettable seasons of Georgia Tech basketball, where the Jackets won 64 games, and featured the stunning run to the 2004 NCAA Tournament championship game.
Jack will be celebrated on Oct. 14 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, when the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame opens its doors to the Fort Washington, Md., native. He will be part of a talented class of eight, which also includes football legend Calvin Johnson, baseball All-Americans Eric Patterson and Michael Sorrow, golf star and current PGA Tour player Nicholas Thompson, track and field All-Americans Lynn Houston Moore and Brendon Mahoney, and ACC tennis champion Jaime Wong.
“It’s a tremendous honor. I was floored,” said Jack. “With the tremendous number of athletes that have come through Georgia Tech, to be mentioned and put alongside them in the Athletic Hall of Fame, it’s just a tremendous honor.”
It’s not an honor that is very much deserved if you ask those close to him.
“It’s long overdue,” said backcourt mate Will Bynum, who teamed with Jack during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. “I’m definitely going to be [at the Hall of Fame Banquet] to support him. This is huge, and I’m extremely proud of him.”
“It’s well-deserved,” added current Georgia Tech men’s basketball director of player personnel Mario West, who also teamed with Jack during those two seasons. “It’s one of those things, where I was there. I was beside Jarrett in practice putting in sweat and just seeing everything that he’s accomplished in coming back and getting his degree. As a teammate, as a brother, as a friend who’s stayed in contact throughout his tenure in the League and away from Tech, it was truly a privilege to be with this guy. I’m really, really excited to see someone accomplish all of his dreams. I have the utmost admiration and respect for Jarrett.”
Jack earned his respect from Day One on the Flats. Coming in with a loaded class, that included Chris Bosh, Theodis Tarver and Jim Nystrom, he was all business on the court. While he went through the growing pains of a freshman breaking into the ACC, he found there was no part of his game that a little extra work in the gym couldn’t fix.
A relentless worker, he also proved to be his harshest critic.
“Jarrett was brutally honest with himself about his self-evaluations,” Hewitt recalled. “He was not one of these kids that would sugarcoat things to himself. If he saw something was wrong or somebody pointed out something that was wrong, he’d accept that. His desire to watch film helped propel his development. He probably developed faster than anybody I’ve been around. I see how far he came from when he came to Georgia Tech to where he is today, it’s a testament to his hard work.”
Hewitt feels the day things clicked for Jack came in the final 10 seconds of the ACC Tournament semifinal on March 12, 2004, against North Carolina. The Jackets had blown an 11-point, second-half lead, and trailed 82-81 with 9.8 seconds left.
“We ran a sideline, out-of-bounds play that we had run a certain way, and we decided to change it because I wanted to see if we could get the ball in Jarrett’s hands and he could make a play,” Hewitt remembers. “The adjustment he made was so quick. He took the ball, made a nice move, got to the foul line and made a shot to win the game. That’s when I said, `He’s got it. He’s well on his way.'”
Jack continued on that road by working, often unseen, during hours when he could have chosen to play. He especially remembers the late-night workouts with Bynum.
“Will and I always joke on each other about how we used to stay in the gym,” he recalled. “I’d be in the gym, and I’d look up, he’d be running down the stairs, this is like late on a Friday night, and vice versa. He was in the gym, and he looked up, and he already knew it was one person coming down there to get that late-night workout with him. We outworked a lot of people to get to where we are. We always talk about us being gym rats and that helped catapult us to where we are now.”
That work ethic not only helped Jack and Bynum improve their games, but inspired the entire squad.
“Whether he was watching film or just always in the gym, a guy like myself, who was a walk-on, trying to earn my stripes, being able to watch him and watch the whole process of him putting in the work was just truly phenomenal,” said West.
Jack was a tremendous performer all three years and improved his scoring every season — bumping his scoring up by three-points a game each year (9.5 ppg to 12.5 as a sophomore to 15.5 as a junior. His shooting also improved every season (45.5 to 45.6 to 51.4), with major jumps from behind the arc (28.3 to 31.6 to 44.2) and at the line (70.3, 80.2, to 88.6). He also hit the boards, averaging 4.5 per season. His assists went down as his scoring went up (6.0 to 5.6 to 4.5), but it was not due of selfishness (his shots were nearly identical his final two seasons).
“He’s always been a true point guard, pass-first,” said West. “He wanted to get everyone involved, but when he needs to score he’s able to do that as well.”
He also was durable, not missing a game in his three seasons and starting 100 out of a possible 101 games — the only game he didn’t start was on Senior Day his junior season.
Jack ranks 25th all-time in school history in scoring, with 1,265 points, and sits in the top 10 in assist average (5.4 apg, fourth), assists (543, fifth), and steals (183, sixth), and is in the top 20 in free throw percentage (.796, 15th) and minutes (3,260, 19th),
Jack would take charge when he had to, however. That was never more obvious than on March 28, 2004, when he lifted the Jackets into the Final Four, pouring in 29 points (8-of-12, 13-of-14 from the line), pulling down nine rebounds, handing out six assists, and making four steals and a block in the third-seeded Jackets’ 79-71 overtime win over fourth-seed Kansas. Jack scored eight points in the extra session, going 6-for-6 from the line, grabbed four rebounds and had an assist, as Tech outscored the Jayhawks, 13-5.
“We had a team that was injury-riddled, and he and Will Bynum basically carried the team on their backs to the NCAA Tournament and to the ACC Finals,” said Hewitt. “He had a high-ankle sprain against Duke in the championship of the ACC Tournament and still almost pulled out a win in the ACC title game.”
His character, personality and ability to charm people made as big an impact as his ability to hit the big shot or make the smart pass.
“Everybody knows Jarrett, and Jarrett knows everyone,” said West, with a laugh. “He’s like a magnet. He draws people to him, and you just want to be around him, whether he’s telling a story about one of his basketball experiences against one of the top players in the country or he’s just talking about everyday life.”
When games got late, Jack never believed he was out of a game. He preferred to believe. That was most obvious in the run to the Final Four.
“He was just one of those guys that was always positive, He was out there on the floor, he was facilitating and getting everyone involved,” West said. “He was always positive, always encouraging.
“For a guy like myself that wasn’t playing, through this stretch he’d be like, `Hey, `Rio, stay ready,'” he added. “He was always upbeat. When he’d come out and guys would come off court, he’d be the first one up off the bench clapping, high-fiving. We were all able to absorb his positivity. We were going to play hard and always be upbeat. He was very energetic, too. He had such tremendous heart and positivity and encouraging words. Numbers one through five all the way to the eighth or 10th guy on the bench.”
Jack left for the NBA after his junior year and was selected by Denver with the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft — he’d be traded to Portland on Draft night. Since then he’s played with seven other teams (Indiana, Toronto, New Orleans, Golden State, Cleveland, Brooklyn and Atlanta) having signed a one-year deal with the Hawks on July 11.
He likels the idea of returning to Atlanta, and helping the Hawks take a shot at winning an NBA Championship.
He already took care of unfinished business at Georgia Tech, earning his degree in 2014.
“It was a promise I had with my mom,” Jarrett said. “When I decided to leave school early and turn pro, that was the one request she had of me. With everything she’s done for me, I didn’t think that was a hard thing to do. So I went back diligently every summer, a class here, two classes there and finally I was able to walk across the finish line.”
That commitment to finishing isn’t surprising and can be traced to his roots.
“He’s a bright, kid. He was raised the right way by his mom, and dad instilled some very strong, positive values in him,” Hewitt said. “Certainly, education is a big key. One of the reasons we were able to get him was because we didn’t sugarcoat how tough the challenge of Georgia Tech was going to be academically. Sometimes you lose kids because they don’t want to face that challenge. Jarrett wasn’t one of those guys. I think a lot of credit goes to his mom and dad.”
Jarrett agrees and that’s why his mom, Louise, and father, Carlton, will introduce him.
“They’ve been my backbone, my support system,” he said. “Good or bad they’ve been through it all. So I think it was only fitting that they present me.”
Hewitt believes it would be fitting for the Institute to take their honoring of Jack a step further.
“I’d like to see them put his number up in the rafters,” he said. “Here’s a guy that graduated from Georgia Tech, led us to the Final Four, is a tremendous ambassador for the school. But he is as proud and appreciative as anybody can be to get this honor.”
West is looking forward to seeing Jack back in the Atlanta area on a regular basis.
“The entire Georgia Tech community is excited,” he said. “Everyone knows what he meant to Georgia Tech and what he was able to do here and what he’s been able to do in the [NBA]. I’m truly excited to see him in Atlanta. Atlanta is like home. So it’s always good to come back home.”
He also likes his new home in the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It’s tremendous,” he said. “My brother and I were laughing, it’s like `Who would have thought, 12 years later we’re back in the place that kind of put me on the map?’ I’m excited to be here.”