Sept. 23, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
With basketball practice nearing, Tadric Jackson looks to unfurl a new game for Georgia Tech, and to that end, the sophomore has a new look.
Leaner with notable sinew, he’s shed more than 15 pounds since last season.
“Last season . . . I can’t believe I was 222 so I got with the coaching staff, the strength and conditioning staff,” Jackson said recently. “My body didn’t look good. They said, ‘You’ve got to change your body.’
“I told them I was going to be committed to that, and work hard this summer. I’ve got about [five or six] pounds to go before the season.”
Really, the goal in Jackson’s sophomore season will be to re-claim an old skill set – the one that made him The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s all-class Georgia Player of the Year after he led Tift County High to the 2014 state AAAAAA title.
Cutting weight, and adding muscle and stamina are parts of the process.
The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 18.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists as senior at Tift County, and arrived on The Flats as one of head coach Brian Gregory’s most notable recruits – joining the likes of Robert Carter Jr. and Marcus Georges-Hunt.
He didn’t play to match.
Jackson was expected to be a scorer foremost. An affection for the long ball, however, rendered him ineffective for much of the 2014-15 season.
While playing in 30 of 31 games and starting the final six, he averaged 5.4 points and 1.7 rebounds.
Those numbers did not set off the loudest alarms; his methodology did.
After arriving with analogies to predecessor Trae Golden, a jack-of-all trades guard with a knack for scoring – and often getting to the rim to do it – Jackson favored the 3-pointer for 44.8 percent of his shot attempts.
He made just 16-of-90, or 17.8 percent, but kept taking them.
Only Quinton Stephens (107) and Bolden (92) tried more long balls.
The numbers didn’t add up.
Jackson’s 451 minutes represented 7.2 percent of all 6,300 minutes logged by the Jackets, yet his 201 shot attempts accounted for 11.2 percent of all taken.
His 90 treys tried were 18.3 percent of all tried.
He got off track before the season, when his father, Damedric Jackson, passed away last summer.
Then, with his weight climbing and psychology sinking, he re-wired on the fly.
“The way the game is played with me [normally] is just play. Don’t worry about other stuff on the outside,” he said. “In the beginning, I had a couple difficulties. My dad passed away. That kind of killed my vibe for a long time.
“At the end of the season, I got it together, but my confidence level was gone [early in the season], and it was all downhill.”
Jackson adjusted to Tech’s academic rigors with aplomb. The business administration major made the ACC Academic Honor Roll.
Basketball became the greater battle.
He played at, “205 or maybe as much as 210 [pounds],” as a high school senior, yet by midseason was at 215 or so – and adding.
“At the beginning, I was like, ‘I can play at 215, 210,’ but as the games got going and we got into the ACC the games got faster,” Jackson recalled. “I had questions, do I need to condition more on my own time?
“It was more of . . . I kind of lost confidence, and I was thinking too much. Coach, everybody had faith in me and I shot well in practice, but in my mind . . . “
After a pause, Jackson here referenced August, when his father passed away in Macon from complications related to his single remaining kidney.
“It was very unexpected,” he explained. “Coach BG, we had talk after talk after talk. We had one-on-one meetings all through the season. He kind of told me to relax, and asked me what’s going on, what I was thinking, what was going on in life, off the court, trying to make sure I was OK.”
Teammates tried to help, especially senior Marcus Georges-Hunt.
He’s known Jackson for six years or so, dating back to time spent playing basketball together, and unique family-like bonds formed over years.
“I just told him to relax; being a freshman and playing in the ACC is not easy,” Georges-Hunt said. “He probably had a great high school career, and people probably had high expectations for you. Just go out there and attack the best way you can to the best of your abilities.”
Jackson found more footing starting Tech’s final six games.
He averaged 9.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists with just four turnovers in 171 combined playing minutes.
His shot was better.
He hit 25 percent in Tech’s first 25 games (he played in 24), and 31.9 percent as a starter. After making 13.6 percent of his 3-pointers in the first 25 games (9-of-66), he made 29.2 percent as a starter (7-of-24).
Part of the process of becoming the player he wants to be, the player Gregory and his staff think that Jackson can become, will be about decision making.
Although Jackson was slowed over the summer by a sprained ankle, he showed signs in three preseason games in the Bahamas of a make-over.
He averaged 14.0 points on 42.5 percent shooting (17-of-40), and made 5-of-16 3-pointers (31.3 percent).
“His shot selection and overall play were improved,” Gregory said. “The biggest thing with him and his offensive aggressiveness is maturity, learning a good shot vs. just getting a shot. One of the biggest differences between high school and college basketball is statistics are kept.
“It’s not just how many points you get, but how many shots you take. Sometimes, freshmen are amazed at their efficiency. With maturity, you hope he understands that the quality of each possession is important.”
Jackson has wired himself to strength and conditioning coach Mike Bewley, thinned out his diet, and worked.
“I sent him pictures and asked, ‘Is this the right place?’ I got his feedback on what to eat,” Jackson said. “If I can get in the best condition ever in my life, the game will come easier. I’ll make more shots, I won’t get as tired . . . “
Gregory plans strategic changes that offer more enticement.
“I think I will have a chance to have the ball in my hands more, especially the way the offense is now,” he said. “You get rebounds, and you go with it instead of looking for the guards all the time. We can just go . . . play transition basketball.
“It’s not structured, robotic. If you get the ball, other than the bigs, you’re not looking for the guard, waiting for him to come back. Everybody go make a play.”
Georges-Hunt believes in Jackson.
“I feel like he has grown from his freshman year to his sophomore year. I feel like his mind is there more than it was last year, like he’s more relaxed,” said Tech’s senior leader. “He’s adjusted, and more comfortable to just go play.
“He’s put in a lot of work this summer, transformed his body. That shows that he wants to be better than last year.”