Even though he just recently finished his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin, Traevon Jackson comes across just like his game- confident, smooth and mature.
For being just 20 years old, he’s so calm and composed, you can’t help but think about where you were in life at 20….and then sheepishly quit punishing yourself.
Some of that confidence undoubtedly comes from his famous genetics and being the son of NBA star player Jim Jackson, but the greater part of it comes from his faith and approach to life, off the court.
What was your experience like playing in the NCAA Tournament?
“Obviously, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. Just the fact of me playing in the tournament was great because it’s the attitude of “loser goes home” and unfortunately we had to go home. But it really puts into perspective what you need to do to prepare for it going forward. And learning from that this year helps us next year.”
Is there added pressure based on who your dad is to succeed? What’s the dynamic of that like?
“Growing up, I felt it more than I do now, but now I don’t even think about it at all, actually. The pressure that I feel now the most is pleasing the Lord. That may sound cliché, but that’s an everyday type of task and the biggest thing for me. As long as I continue to grow in that aspect, there is no other question.”
Who would win a game of one on one right now?
“Oh, me of course (laughing). Easily. He can beat me in golf and all the other, cards, all that stuff, but he’s not beating me on the court.”
The Louisville Cardinals won the National Championship, but you knew with Michigan making it to the final game we would have plenty to talk about regarding fresh faces of March Madness as Michigan was the youngest team in the tournament. But while much of the talk going into the tournament surrounded freshmen Glenn Robinson III and player of the year Trey Burke, a sophomore, it was freshman Mitch McGary who was the story of the tournament. But that was before tonight, when an unknown freshman took over the game in the first half. You had probably never heard of Spike Albrecht before tonight, but by halftime that’s all anyone was talking about.
Spike Albrecht averaged less than two points per game during the regular season, and he hadn’t done much in this tournament until he put on a shooting clinic in the first half. He hit four three-pointers and didn’t miss any. One was a complete bomb from way beyond the arc. He scored 17 points in 20 minutes as he single-handily led Michigan to a 12-point lead while Trey Burke was sitting on the bench with a couple of fouls. He was also driving to the rim with reckless abandon. The kid was on fire and so was Michigan, but it wouldn’t last. His first half will be remembered for a long time, but Louisville was able to close the gap with a run before the half, as Michigan coach John Beilein left Burke on the bench as he seemed mesmerized by Albrecht like everyone on Twitter. The kid ran out of steam in the second half, but we’ll always remember that amazing first half run.
Like I said above, going into this game Mitch McGary was the story of the tournament. The freshman big man was the key to Michigan’s win over Syracuse as his play in the middle helped to counter the tough 2-3 zone that everyone was talking about before the game. His shooting ability was exceeded by his passing ability, and he had to turn some heads in NBA scouting departments with his performances. He finished that game with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 critical assists. Against Kansas and their impressive front line, McGary finished with a whopping 25 points and 14 rebounds. Remember his name come draft day. But tonight wasn’t his night as he got into foul trouble and wasn’t as effective against Louisville’s tough front line.
Even with these two Michigan freshman steeling all the headlines, Glenn Robinson III also had an excellent tournament for the Wolverines. He basically did everything well, as he was able to score and rebound, but he also played excellent defense and had some big steals as well. He also sank some critical free throws against Syracuse when it seemed like nobody on Michigan could hit one down the stretch when it mattered. He definitely lived up to his talent and all the hype surrounding his name.
The champs were a more veteran team, and that might explain their ultimate success, but they had one freshman in forward Montrezl Harrell who found ways to contribute throughout the tournament. He had a monster dunk tonight on a fast break, and he had eight big points against Wichita State. He also had a combined 19 points in the first two games of the tournament. He was an important cog of a truly impressive championship team.
Finally, apart from Louisville and Michigan playing an incredible final game, this tournament will be remembered for the excellent run by Wichita State and the excellent coaching from Gregg Marshall who urged the Shockers to “play angry.” Freshman guard Fred VanVleet was a big part of this run, scoring 13 points in the huge upset over #1 seed Gonzaga and then 12 points against #2 seed Ohio State. Unfortunately for the aptly named Shockers they couldn’t get past Louisville and VanVleet only had three points in that game. Still, he played very well in his first NCAA tournament, just like the other guys listed above.
March Madness is a great time of the year for die-hard sports fans and casual fans alike. The close games and the upsets provide plenty of drama on the court, and every year we have new heroes that come out of nowhere. It’s always amazing to see a young kid in his first NCAA tournament become a household name overnight with a stellar performance on the big stage.
After day one yesterday (I don’t count the Wednesday games), we already have some freshman making a splash, and we have others we can expect to hear from today as well.
Fourth-seeded Michigan streaked to a 71-56 win over 13th-seeded South Dakota State on Thursday night, and not surprisingly, freshman phenom Glenn Robinson III had plenty to do with the win. Robinson scored a team-high 21 points, chalking up a whopping 17 in the second half, and he also grabbed six rebounds. His three three-pointers in the second half really fueled Michigan. The Wolverines are very young, so Robinson and the other freshman will have to come up big for this team to go far in the tournament. They wilted in the Big Ten tournament, but maybe that adversity will get them ready to make a run now.
Freshman Gary Harris of Michigan State had a solid night as the third-seeded Spartans defeated 14th-seeded Valparaiso 65-54. Harris wasn’t the leading scorer, as Derrick Nix dominated while dropping 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, but Harris was making jumpers as he contributed 10 points to the winning effort. With the 6’ 9” and 270 pound Nix powering the offense from the inside, Harris and Keith Appling can stretch the defense by making outside shots. On a good team like Michigan State, a freshman like Harris doesn’t have to be the star. He just has to know his role and do his job.
Today will feature a number of talented freshman making their tournament debut, and Shabazz Muhammad will be getting a ton of attention as the sixth-seeded UCLA Bruins take on the eleventh-seeded Minnesota Gophers. Muhammad has versatility on offense as he averaged just under 18 points per game while averaging over 5 rebounds per game. He is very effective down low but he also shot 40 percent from the three-point line. With guard Jordan Adams suffering a broken foot, there will be plenty of pressure on the freshman to step up on the big stage. The Pac-12 is off to a great start in the tournament which has silenced some critics, but we’ll see if UCLA can get past a Big-10 team in the first game.
The Kansas Jayhawks are a number one seed so we can’t expect too much drama on Friday in their opening game, but it will be interesting to see how freshman Ben McClemore looks in his tournament debut. This guard averages 16.4 points per game. He’s deadly shooting from the outside, and we’ve seen in the past that hot shooting can propel a team to the Final Four. McClemore is shooting 44 percent from three-point land. This kid could be a top pick, if not the top pick, in the NBA draft so the pressure goes well beyond a potential Kansas run to the title. You never know just how good a player can be until he’s tested at crunch time, so it will be fun to see what this kid can do.
We all love to focus on points and stats when evaluating players, but of course the game of basketball can’t be simply defined by stats. Indiana has a real shot at a national title, and Yogi Ferrell is a big part of that success. The freshman point guard has solid stats with 7.8 points and 4.2 assists per game, but his leadership and solid ball-handling make life much easier for stars like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. There’s every reason to believe this kid will carry this composure into the tournament. James Madison shouldn’t pose much of a problem in the first game but then the real fun begins.
Enjoy the games and hopefully we’ll see some smiles on the faces of these young faces as they march through this incredible tournament.