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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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The Way The Ball Bounces

It's just the way the ball bounces. Or in this case, exactly as Jeremy Jackson, a Brandon High School standout basketball player, had been planning for all along. Recruited heavily this past season, his only one at Brandon, there was little doubt the 19-year-old, six-foot-five-inch senior guard, one of Hillsborough County's top players, would not be playing college ball about this time next year. To make a long story short, several schools wanted the soft-spoken, humble, yet dominating force on their courts. He signed a letter of intent with Tennessee Technological University last week after receiving a full scholarship and word that he may have the opportunity to start his freshman year. However, that was last week. A little more than two years ago, it was an entirely different story for a player who learned to play in black-top pick-up games in Chicago. The ball certainly could have bounced in a much different direction.
Jackson admits, had it not been for his moving to Tampa in 2005 and the support he received from the strangers he met here -- people now considered family -- he'd probably be lucky if he made a junior college team in Chicago and little more than below-average grades to show for his work. Perhaps he never would have made it that far due to the influence of gangs and trouble surrounding his native Hazel Crest neighborhood, he said. "I could have stayed in Chicago, but my grades weren't right. I had to straighten up," Jackson said. "It was hard to focus in a city like Chicago." It was time to take on some extra responsibility and get his life in order so there'd be at least a small opportunity at something greater ahead. At the suggestion of his cousin Melvin Buckley, a basketball player at the University of South Florida, Jackson hoped to move to the area and make a name for himself in the high school circuit while attending a prep school in St. Petersburg where he would have lived in the school's dormitory. It wasn't meant to be, his grades were too low, and suddenly the transplant player was out on the street because he couldn't live in USF's campus housing with his cousin. Enter Ron Williams of Valrico, a friend of Buckley's and assistant coach at USF, now assisting at Berkeley Prep in Tampa. He saw a kid who was looking for an opportunity and resiliently opposed returning home, Williams said, and within days of meeting each other, Williams extended an offer to Jackson to live with him, Williams' fiancé and their three-year-old son. "My fiancé knows how I am with kids and he didn't want to go back to Chicago," Williams said. "We accepted him with open arms." Days after that, Jackson was enrolled in Tampa Baptist, where he stayed one year before transferring to Brandon, and his transformation began. First, he focused on his grades and then his game, knowing that improving each would only help his chances of securing a better future. It was a hard road, Jackson said last week. One that would not have been as easy and smooth as it was if it were not for his new mentor, Williams -- a man Jackson kept at arms length for about a year until realizing Williams was the closest to a father that he had ever known. "He's helping me make the right decisions, and no, I wouldn't have the opportunities I've had without him," Jackson said of Williams. "Ron just kept pushing me. I've seen that he would fight for me, that he had my back. I've never really had a father figure before." Williams has accepted Jackson as a member of the family; "I love him like he's my son." Jackson has only met his real father a couple times and the man never had a hand in raising him. Jackson's mother raised him alone and, fearing Chicago would swallow him, supported his decision to make his way to Florida. Though she's since remarried and moved to Texas, the two talk several times a day and she helps Williams financially when needed. "He's kind of a humble kid, even with all the accolades, he's a humble kid who's still low key and very thankful and appreciative," Williams said. As a junior, Jackson averaged 26 points and 10 rebounds per game, scoring 655 points on the season.
Transferring to Brandon this year to play better competition and because of coach Mark Hermann's track record of getting players into good schools, Jackson led the team with 527 points on the season, 18.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Hermann, who's coached professionals players, said Jackson was one of the Top 10 players he's ever coached. "He's so coachable and he's only going to get better," Hermann said. "And Jeremy Jackson is so fun to watch." At this point, he's only the second player in the county to sign with a Division I school. He reports to summer school May 28 where he hopes to study computers, but will always call Florida home. And he'll keep practicing, hoping to add another four inches to his 40-inch vertical jump, working on his outside shot and strengthening his defense. "I have to work harder than everyone else," he said in trying to determine the next bounce of the ball that is the plan for his life.

Scott E. Rupp at 657-4510 or by e-mail at srupp@mediageneral.com.

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