Ever improving Jackson becomes force inside

Bilal Dixon didn’t stand a chance.

Providence’s starting center stands 6-foot-8 and weighs in at around 228 pounds. Against most teams, Dixon holds his own ground in the low post. Playing Connecticut, the freshman’s 11 points and 12 rebounds helped pace an 81-66 over the rough and physical Connecticut Huskies on January 27.

But that was not the case when Dixon played against Syracuse’s Rick Jackson on Febraury 2. That night, Dixon was 0-for-4 from the field, did not score, and contributed just four rebounds in 22 minutes.

As for his counterpart? All Jackson did was score a career high 28 points and grab nine rebounds as Syracuse crushed the Friars, 99-85. It has been another solid season season for Jackson, who averaging a career high 10 points and nearly seven rebounds in 25 minutes per game.

Using what is quickly becoming a dangerous arsenal of inside moves, Jackson scored on a series of baby-hooks and up-and-unders with his left hand, frustrating Dixon and the Friars all night.

These nights are becoming typical for Jackson, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the top big men in the Big East.

“He’s got people looking for him, he’s moving the ball,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “People are concerned about Wesley [Johnson] and Andy [Rautins] and he’s got to take advantage of those opportunities and he is.”

Jackson came to Syracuse as a raw project. It was unquestioned that Jackson could compete on the defensive end, with his 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame and the ability to block shots with both hands.

His defensive abilities were showcased in a showdown with Greg Monroe and then-No. 7 Georgetown on Jan. 25 in a 73-56 win. Monroe, widely considered the top center in the Big East was completely shut down by Jackson and center Arinze Onuaku, as he finished with just eight points, four rebounds and six turnovers before fouling out.

“They tried to get him in the middle of the zone and he’s good there, but we were able to get people back in on them and our big guys tried to make him take a difficult shot,” Boeheim said. “On the offensive side, we wanted to go to him, with Arinze or Ricky, whoever he was defending.”

But the main questions surrounding Jackson early on was his abilities on the offensive end. In his freshman year, Jackson was limited to putbacks and dunks, rarely being featured in the offense.

That has not been the case recently.

Jackson has worked relentlessly to improve his low post game to the point where his hook shot has become a work of art and a steady way for Syracuse to get two points.

“He’s got that little hook down,” Boeheim said. “He has worked hard on it. That’s what it has taken for us to get better.”

That part of his game was on display on February 27, 2010 as then No.-4 Syracuse hosted then-No. 7 Villanova in front of an NCAA record 34,616 fans as Jackson scored 19 points and hauled in eight rebounds in a 95-77 trouncing of the Wildcats.

The win was especially satisfying for Jackson, since he hails from the Philadelphia area, as he and current teammate Scoop Jardine both played at Neumann-Goretti High School. Jackson played many of the Wildcat players in high school and frequently sees them when he is home for the summer.

Prior to the game, Jardine and Jackson looked deep into the Syracuse rafters, seeing that towels had been placed for each fan that was expected to be in attendance. The sea of Orange extended further beyond anything that either had seen before.

“I told Rick ‘This is really big for us,’” Jardine said. “We just stood there and looked around the Dome for a moment and saw how everyone was going crazy.”

Two of his 19 came on an emphatic slam off a feed from guard Andy Rautins to give Syracuse a 72-56 lead and send the crowd into a frenzy.

“I really wanted to get that win because I know when I go home I’m going to hear about things like that,” Jackson said. “It’s the only game that people really remember when I go home so it feels really good to get this win.”

This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of The Juice.

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