CHICAGO — The path that led C.J. Jackson to Ohio State has been well-documented. As an under-recruited senior from Charlotte, North Carolina, Jackson first went to a junior college before eventually signing with the Buckeyes as a sophomore.
It’s also the path his father took. The Ohio State senior is named after his dad, Cleveland Jackson, who played two seasons at Butler Community College in Kansas before transferring to Georgia to finish his college career. That’s where C.J., the oldest of three kids, was born and began the nomadic journey that comes with having a basketball coach in the family.
First it was off to Los Angeles, where his parents are from, so his dad could coach high school basketball after playing in South America for a year. Then it was back to Georgia, where the elder Jackson spent seven years as an assistant at Mercer University, and eventually to Charlotte.
Each step along the way instilled a love of the game in the younger Jackson.
“I was in the gym with him all the time,” C.J. said of his father last week at Big Ten media day. “Once we went to Mercer I was always at the camps, and in practice I was the towel boy.
“Just little things like that and seeing basketball at that level was like, ‘I want to do this.’ Up until about ninth grade he was who I trained with.”
Initially, though, Jackson’s love for basketball wasn’t enough to get him into a major Division I school to play. He enrolled at Eastern Florida State Community College rather than commit to a lower-level school where he didn’t want to be, a decision Jackson said was the most difficult thing he’s ever had to go through.
The reason for his decision? Because he knew he was destined for greater things.
“I knew personally what level I could play at,” Jackson said. “I understand there’s still questions to this day if I’m capable of playing at this level, but going there, it was what I needed for me personally to open up and get out of my shell and be the player I knew I could be.
“Credit to coach (Jeremy) Shulman down there. He allowed me and helped me to be that player.”
That player is one who is expected to again shoulder a significant load for an Ohio State team facing significant questions entering the 2018-19 season.
After eventually outplaying JaQuan Lyle and taking the starting point guard spot as a sophomore, Jackson last season more than doubled his scoring average, from 5.6 to 12.6 points per game, and increased his assists from 2.9 to 3.9 per game.
OSU sophomore center Kaleb Wesson said Jackson has opened the preseason looking like an all-Big Ten player, but it remains to be seen how much realistic room remains for growth.
“He had a terrific year last year,” coach Chris Holtmann said of Jackson. “He’s going to have to have an even better one this year, which is hard because he took a huge jump. Is he going to have the same kind of jump? That’s probably unrealistic to expect that, but I do think that only happens through consistent hard work and great preparation.”
Jackson sets his goals modestly.
“Just see what I can do to be better than I was yesterday, whether that’s putting on some weight, changing my diet from last year to this year, little stuff like that,” he said. “Obviously on the court, I can always improve little things, becoming a better shooter, becoming a better finisher, things like that.”