Dec. 17, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– There’s no prettier sight than Tadric Jackson putting up and swishing his left-handed jumper.
It’s been a pretty common sight this season, as Jackson is having a career year shooting (49.2 percent — second on the Jackets behind only Ben Lammers’ 59.1), with an even better 56.3 percentage from three-point range (9-for-16). His nine three-point field goals rank second to Quinton Stephens (12), and he’s third on the team in scoring 12.6 ppg, behind only Lammers (15.8 ppg) and Josh Okogie (15.3), despite ranking seventh in minutes (20.6 mpg).
This isn’t the same Tadric Jackson who didn’t shoot as high as 39.0 percent or 28.0 from three in either of his first two seasons. He’s a more confident and much more efficient model.
“For me, shooting, the percentage I was shooting, it was more confidence than anything,” said the 6-2 junior from Tifton (Tift County High School). “But I had the mentality of ‘The next shot’s going in.’ ‘I know I can make the shots. I make them in practice, I feel like I can make them in games.’ That’s my mentality.”
This year it’s also been his reality.
Jackson was very real on Dec. 7, at VCU, going for a career-high 24 points, scoring 19 of them and hitting eight of his career-best nine field goals in the second half and overtime, to lead Georgia Tech to a 76-73 overtime victory. The win in the Jackets’ last game before the break for finals week was their first on the road in 2016-17, snapped a two-game losing streak and helped head coach Josh Pastner avoid his first-ever three-game losing streak as a coach.
“We came out with a lot of energy,” said Jackson, who had his fourth double-figure game of the season, one fewer than he had all last season and two fewer than his career-best year in 2014-15 as a freshman — he has four of the Jackets five 10-point games off the bench. “I think that was the most important part about that game. We had way more energy. We played hard, and we got the 50/50 balls.”
Pastner gave credit to Jackson’s hard play in practice for what he did against VCU, snapping a three-game slump (12 points, 4-for-18 shooting combined), and for what has been more often the rule since sitting out the season opener against Tennessee Tech, recovering from a hamstring injury.
“How he played is how he practiced,” said Pastner. “If he doesn’t practice well, he’ll sit the bench and he won’t play, and he won’t be able to show what he can do. If he practices at a high level, he’s going to play at a high level. It’s pretty simple. It all comes down to production. He produced vs. VCU, and he produced vs. VCU because he produced in those practices. He told me on Tuesday night in my hotel room that his legs were exhausted because he’s never worked so hard in his life in those three days.”
Jackson has had a lot of hard days and that’s by design.
“I’ve been very hard on him,” Pastner said. “He hasn’t talked back, he hasn’t played the victim, he hasn’t frowned, he hasn’t been down in the dumps. He takes it like a man. Now, from there, it’s on him to produce from it, but he’s taken it. I’m going to continue to be hard on him until I feel he’s turned the corner and then, not that I’m going to back off, but then I feel we can move to the next step.”
Jackson recognizes that being under Pastner’s eye is not personal but in the team’s best interests, and his.
“If he never said anything to me, if he never got on me, if he never coached on me then, he wouldn’t care,” he said. “So I feel like he cares about me. He wants me to be the best player that I can be so I can help the team.”
The coaching began pretty much from Day One, when Pastner challenged Jackson to work on his shooting.
“One thing he had us doing before the season was shooting a thousand shots a week. Try to set a goal for yourself. Just keep shooting,” Jackson recalled. “We didn’t have time to shoot during practice like that during the summer because he was new, he wanted to teach his offense and how he wanted us to play. So we didn’t get much shooting. We had to shoot after practice or before practice or on our free time.”
Getting up shots, then the ensuing film study, as well as studying film from his first two seasons at Tech has helped the two-time Academic All-ACC guard rid himself of some of the bad habits.
“Looking at film was one of the main things,” he said. “The main focus has been shooting the ball the same way, not leaning back on my shot, keeping my eyes on the rim. Just small things that come with shooting the ball the same way every time. Make or miss, just shoot the same way, shoot with confidence.”
That work ethic and determination has led to Jackson earning more court time. Heading into Sunday’s game against Alcorn State at McCamish Pavilion, Tadric is playing a career-best 20.6 minutes per game, a 33-percent increase from last year’s total (13.8 mpg) and a 30-percent bump up from his career total (14.3).
Pastner has at least one more carrot to put on the stick and knows Jackson is anything but complacent.
“Oh, Tadric wants to start. Trust me,” Pastner said. “But I told him, if he wants to start he’s got to earn it. One game doesn’t do it, two practices don’t do it. It’s got to be over a long period of time. So it’s on him to earn it. Nothing’s going to be given to him.
“Tadric’s good enough to be an All-ACC player. He’s talented enough,” he added. “I’ve said this to him before, my standard’s at a certain level for him, and I’m not lowering it. He’s going to have to meet me. That’s on him to meet me it’s not me to meet him.”
Meeting that standard includes every day in practice, where Pastner has created a deterrent to not meeting his standard in three simple words: “Go see Dan.” That’s the code for a player being told to leave the practice floor and go where strength coach Dan Taylor and the VersaClimber are waiting. Once there, the player must go 180-200 rpm for a full minute or two — full being the operative word, as they repeat as necessary until completing the required range for the required time — then immediately rejoining practice.
“I send guys to Dan for lack of effort plays or not execution,” Pastner said. “Instead of being on the practice floor, which is a privilege, I just tell them, ‘Go see Dan.’ You’d rather be on the practice floor than doing the VersaClimber with Dan. Everybody’s been on it.”
Jackson wasn’t on it in the three days leading up to VCU.
He had no plans on being on it during the preparation for Alcorn State, which begins a rugged three-games-in-five-days stretch, which is followed by Georgia and concludes with Wofford. Jackson is giving 100 percent and living 100 percent in the moment.
“It starts today in practice,” he said. “We have to go out there and play hard and most important, play with energy. Give your best effort.”
Then it’s learn and move toward the next moment.
“We’ve learned. We’ve got young guys on the team. They’ve learned, too,” he said. “We have to watch film after games, learn from our mistakes, fix it and move on. Early in the season we had trouble with transition defense so we watched film, fixed it in practice and moved on. We’ve done better with that. Now it’s picking up the effort and energy in the game and everything else will take care of itself.”