On the biggest stage that Ohio State’s charmed men’s basketball season had to offer, guard C.J. Jackson proved himself ready for the spotlight.
Now if the Buckeyes want to build on their first NCAA Tournament experience in three years, next season’s team will need that and more from its most experienced player. The junior college transfer who played his way into a breakthrough second season at Ohio State is now a front-runner to become a focal point on the court and a steady voice in the locker room.
Both tasks will require adjustments from the soft-spoken Jackson. In his favor, though, is the example set this season by forwards Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop. After Ohio State lost to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Boise, Idaho, Jackson said the ticking clock of his career was on his mind.
Asked what he will take from this most recent group of leaders, Jackson said, “The fact that it’s almost over. Only a few more chances to put on the jersey, play with this group of guys that you share special moments with. As fast as this year went by and as much fun we had, even with the guys that are leaving, it’s over. My time is next and I want to cherish every moment.”
As the starting point guard for all but two games his junior season, Jackson increased his production in every statistical way. He shot and made more than twice as many threes as he did during his sophomore season while playing 30.5 minutes per game and lifting his scoring average from 5.6 points per game to 12.6. In two NCAA Tournament games, he averaged 19.0 points and had seven assists against four turnovers.
Now as the lone recruited scholarship senior on next season’s roster, more will be expected of Jackson even as the coaching staff works to land at least one graduate transfer to bolster the backcourt. That’s especially true after he played himself out of a rough stretch that started in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon, and cost him his starting spot for two games when Big Ten play started in early December.
“He’s a very smart kid on the floor and off the floor, and he sort of saw what we wanted out of him and he embraced it,” assistant coach Ryan Pedon said. “It took a little time. You look at the stat sheet, he had games where he had more turnovers than assists early on, and then if you look at December and January and February and March, you see he got better.”
After having 12 turnovers and five assists in November losses to Butler and Clemson, Jackson had only two more games with more turnovers than assists the rest of the season.
His career over, Tate had some advice for Jackson and the rest of the team’s older players, which would include juniors Micah Potter and Andre Wesson.
“I hope C.J. and the other upperclassmen can take what we have done this year and build more onto it next year,” he said. “It’s going to be a completely different team next year. A lot of younger guys are going to have to step up in roles. I believe in these guys and I’m excited to see what they do and their growth.”