When C.J. Jackson was a nobody to most of the country, he was a definite somebody to Jeremy Shulman. So when Division I schools started recruiting Jackson, a junior-college standout at Eastern Florida State, after his freshman season, the Titans' coach offered a warning disguised as advice.
Although Jackson averaged 16.9 points for the Titans and was named a second-team All-American, he had been a shade below 10 points per game in his first semester. It wasn’t until the second semester that he really settled in, and Shulman had a strong inclination that the transition to the next level would be similar.
“I just said, 'Hey, wait and see,'” Shulman said. “'Be patient. He needed an adjustment period for us.' I’m guessing he’s going through the same thing in the Big Ten. Thankfully they were patient enough to let that happen.”
First-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann is reaping the benefits of the shared belief in Jackson shown by former coach Thad Matta and assistant Dave Dickerson and of their patience with him.
After winning JaQuan Lyle’s starting spot late last season, Jackson has grown into one of the Big Ten’s top point guards while holding down what had been a position of concern during the offseason. Although the emergence of Keita Bates-Diop as a star has garnered national headlines, Jackson’s consistent efforts have received less notice.
Jackson is the opposite of flashy — unless you count his crossover against Michigan State that sent Lourawls Nairn Jr. sprawling onto the floor, able only to watch as Jackson made a jumper — and his comments revolve around a common thread of his teammates putting him in good positions and the coaching staff giving the players a good game plan.
“I think the biggest thing with C.J. is his confidence has grown,” sophomore forward Andre Wesson said. “You see in his plays, shooting more, and he’s feeling more confident in his shot.”
The numbers bear that out. Since moving into the starting lineup for the final nine games of the 2016-17 season, Jackson is averaging 12.2 points and 4.0 assists, shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from three-point range, and playing 29.4 minutes per game. All are significant improvements from his first 23 games as he was settling in.
“I said (to Division I coaches), if you take him for a year, he’s going to be a complementary piece his sophomore year,” Shulman said. “If you recruit over the top of him, you’re never going to get the best of C.J. It’ll be his junior and senior year that you reap the rewards.”
Growing pains have continued under Holtmann. Jackson lost his starting spot for two games after a few too many turnover-prone outings early in the season. But late in the Northwestern game on Wednesday, it was Jackson whom Holtmann wanted to see get to the free-throw line.
Shulman credited Jackson’s instincts and basketball IQ for his ability to succeed with the Buckeyes.
“He’s not the most explosive defender, he’s not the biggest or strongest defender, but his anticipation and seeing a play before it happens, that’s what’s making him a high-level Big Ten guard,” his former coach said.
As for that crossover, Jackson stuck to his personal script and tried to downplay its significance.
“I guess it was an unfortunate play for him,” Jackson said of Nairn. “It was just more so getting to open spots on the floor, being able to space the floor with my ability to shoot, and having a great shooter like Kam (Williams) and a great driver like (Jae’Sean Tate), being able to look for them more and not turn the ball over.”
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