Ohio State men's basketball spotlight: C.J. Jackson

Adam Jardy
Ohio State hopes senior guard C.J. Jackson takes another step in his growth and becomes a potential all-Big Ten guard. [Adam Cairns]

Ohio State will open its 2018-19 men's basketball season by playing its first game at Cincinnati in 98 years. The Buckeyes and Bearcats will meet Wednesday night at the newly renovated Fifth Third Arena, marking only the 11th time the in-state programs have met and the first time they’ve played each other within state lines since 1921. In preparation for the game, The Dispatch counted down the past 14 days with power rankings for each of the members of the Ohio State roster. The series concludes with the top player in our rankings.

No. 1: C.J. Jackson

Position: Guard

Class: Senior

Height/weight: 6 feet 1 / 175 pounds

Jersey number: 3

Background: Given where his career began, Jackson is arguably the most unlikely candidate to be atop the power rankings but is clearly the most qualified. A lightly recruited guard from Charlotte, North Carolina, Jackson initially committed to George Mason but opted not to sign when the coach to whom he committed, Paul Hewitt, was fired shortly thereafter. Rather than pick a fallback plan, he opted to go the junior college route. In his one season at Eastern Florida State, Jackson was named a second-team JUCO All-American after leading the Titans with 16.9 points, 4.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Missouri and Connecticut offered him scholarships after the season, Virginia Tech and California were trying to get him to visit and Auburn coach Bruce Pearl flew to campus to meet with him, but Jackson wound up signing with the Buckeyes after being primarily recruited by associate coach Dave Dickerson despite never having actually been to campus — or even Ohio.

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2017-18 stats: In 34 games including a career-high 31 starts, Jackson averaged 12.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds while playing 30.5 minutes per game. He shot 39.9 percent (64 for 169) from three and had a 1.79 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Need to know: Jackson doesn’t have a favorite food. Named after his father, Cleveland, his full name is Cleveland Jackson Jr., which is where “C.J.” comes from. His father played for Georgia from 1992-95. He “definitely” plans to dunk this year, if only to prove that he can.

Career stats: Jackson has played in 66 games for Ohio State. He made his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore in place of JaQuan Lyle and never looked back, making 40 career starts and averaging 9.2 points, 3.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 25.0 minutes per appearance. Jackson is a career 36.0 percent three-point shooter (90 for 250)

2017-18 recap: It was unclear how Jackson would handle being the go-to point guard for the Buckeyes once Lyle quit the team during the spring, and Jackson struggled early with turnovers, leading coach Chris Holtmann to pull him from the starting lineup. He would settle in, however, scoring in double figures in 14 of 16 games during a stretch that started with the opening of Big Ten play in early December. He scored a career-high 22 points against Stanford in a win at the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon, and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds in a first-round NCAA Tournament game against South Dakota State. Jackson also dealt with a significant cramping issue late in the season that occasionally kept him off the court in key situations but appears to have a better handle on the problem now.

2018-19 outlook: This team will go as far as Jackson can push it. He proved himself to be a key complementary piece on a team dominated by proven leaders last season, but now it’s Jackson’s show. As the leading returner in essentially every important statistical category, Jackson will be counted upon to take another step in his growth and become a potential all-Big Ten guard. He is among the league’s most experienced backcourt members and will need to live up to that. A soft-spoken guy, Jackson will need to be a leader and has taken steps to grow in that area. “We have so many new faces and they lean on us to be everyday guys and be more vocal,” he said before the exhibition game against UNC Pembroke. “I didn’t have to be that guy last year. This year, being more vocal was one of my goals to improve on.” Jackson is poised for a breakout season, one that will see him in the mix to be the team’s leading scorer, and he is likely to play close to 40 minutes a game when things get tight. Plenty of what Ohio State hopes to do will rest on how well he is able to shoulder those expectations, which makes him the team’s most important player entering the season. “C.J. Jackson plays really hard,” Holtmann said after the exhibition game. “We’ve got to get him playing more sound. I’ve always thought the kid has a really good motor. I want him do some things. I want him to lead better and improve in some areas he needs to, but when he’s playing hard he’s really good.”

Previous power rankings

No. 2: Kaleb Wesson

No. 3: Keyshawn Woods

No. 4: Andre Wesson

No. 5: Luther Muhammad

No. 6: Kyle Young

No. 7: Duane Washington Jr.

No. 8: Musa Jallow

No. 9: Micah Potter

No. 10: Jaedon LeDee

No. 11: Justin Ahrens

No. 12: Joey Lane

No. 13: Danny Hummer

No. 14: CJ Walker


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