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Tory Jackson, a kid in a candy store trying to control himself

Greg Arbogast | Monday, November 24, 2008

Like a kid in a candy store.

That’s how Irish coach Mike Brey described point guard Tory Jackson’s play during his first two years at Notre Dame.

And why not? What point guard wouldn’t be excited to play with the likes of Colin Falls, Russell Carter, Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody. The Irish haven’t finished 10th and 20th nationally in scoring offense the past two seasons by accident.

Leading an offense blessed with so many weapons has its challenges though. In his first two years, like any kid surrounded by sugary goodness, Jackson found that deciding between his many options hasn’t been the easiest task.

“I think when he was young and had weapons, he said to me ‘There’s so many options I get confused,’ and that was youth speaking,” Brey said.

If preseason expectations are any indication, Brey’s point guard is now all grown up. Entering his third season running the Irish offense, Jackson has learned what each of his weapons’ firepower is, and how to maximize each contributor’s potential within such a dynamic offense.

In other words, the candy store is still just as stocked and Jackson still likes to go, but he doesn’t lose control upon entering the way he did in the past.

“I think the biggest thing is he’s really learned how to use these weapons around him,” Brey said. “I think he really knows, this is where McAlarney likes it, I can get it to him in these three spots. He’s really learned where to distribute and at what time to get the ball to people.”

What gives Brey such optimism that his point guard has turned the corner? After all, Jackson’s key offensive stats from his freshman and sophomore year are nearly identical.

As a freshman, Jackson started 20 games and averaged 3.3 assists-per-game with 1.83 assist-to-turnover ratio. Last year, Jackson assumed a more prominent role as the offense’s facilitator averaging 5.8 assists-per-game, but his assist-to-turnover-ratio remained a near identical 1.85.

Perhaps Brey’s optimism stems from the studying Jackson put in this off-season. Over the summer, Jackson spent his time studying video of two point guards – Steve Nash and Chris Paul – who run their offenses like the way that Jackson hopes to run this year’s Irish offense.

“I’m trying to make myself better,” Jackson said. “I take some of the good things they’re doing and use them in my game. With some of the weaknesses I have, I try and figure out what they’re doing to make myself better.”

In Nash, Jackson sees a point guard whose decision-making has managed to involve multiple key players in a dynamic offense. Over the past four years, Nash has seamlessly integrated players like Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Shaquille O’Neal into the Suns’ seven seconds or less offense. The result has been an offense that has finished the past four seasons in the NBA’s top-three scoring offenses.

Paul, while averaging 11.4 assists in 2007-2008, managed to score 21.4 points per game, and Jackson would like to see himself become a similar type of dual threat.

“Controlling the game, pushing it, even taking some shots for myself when the shots are open,” Jackson said about his role this year. “Working myself inside and out to make myself a threat and take some of the pressure off ‘Gody and K-Mac.”

The scary thought for opposing defenses is the ramifications if Jackson becomes a more efficient, dynamic offensive facilitator.

In the past two seasons, Notre Dame’s offense has finished eighth and 20th nationally in offensive scoring efficiency. That has occurred despite the fact that the Irish’s point guard hasn’t finished inside the top 50 players nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio.

But if Jackson has the kind of season he and his coach envision, Notre Dame fans will be the ones in the candy store.