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Men’s Basketball: Jackson credits his family for leadership skills

Chris Hine | Friday, November 9, 2007

Even though his grandfather, Joe Jones, passed away 11 years ago, sophomore guard Tory Jackson will always take a piece of advice Joe gave him wherever he goes.

Jackson has his grandfather’s favorite Bible verse – 1 Corinthians 4:2 – tattooed on his chest: “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”

Over the past year, Jackson became a trustworthy steward for this Irish. He earned the trust of his teammates and coaches and became, along with senior forward Rob Kurz, one of the leaders of this year’s squad.

“Even though he’s still only a sophomore, there’s nobody in the classes ahead of him that he’s not afraid to get on or challenge,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “That’s a healthy thing. He is unbelievably respected and has earned that.”

Whether he’s running the offense, communicating on defense or picking up a teammate, Jackson is constantly talking, constantly trying to make his team better. For Jackson, it all comes with the territory of being a “natural-born leader.” That’s a trait he developed under the guidance of his mother – “the leader of almost everything in church” – and deceased grandparents.

“I kind of look at them,” Jackson said. “They passed it down to me. So, I was a leader when I was young. On elementary teams, I was the captain when I came out. I aspire to be a great leader from them.”

At Notre Dame, Jackson’s leadership skills were put to the test immediately. During Jackson’s freshman campaign, Brey put Jackson in the starting lineup after the University suspended starting junior guard Kyle McAlarney for the spring semester because of his arrest for marijuana possession in December. Jackson entered the lineup with guard Colin Falls and Russell Carter, Notre Dame’s two leading scorers, and had to make sure both players got their chances to score.

“Having players like that – they’re great players and either one of them, they both want the ball,” Jackson said. “But they can’t both shoot at the same time, so I took the blame for a lot of it. That was just me because I was a leader. So if I can take the blame, everyone else, they can transition and it makes it easier for everybody else. Once I take the blame, I know what to do with it. I brush it off.”

Brey said Jackson made it his duty to take responsibility when Carter and Falls weren’t happy with what was happening on the court, and that had a calming effect on the team.

“It was always [Jackson’s] fault; even if it wasn’t, it was always his fault,” Brey said. “That’s how good a diplomat he is.”

Brey said Jackson was a solid defender from the moment he arrived on campus but that his offensive game took more time to develop. By the end of last season, Jackson developed into a dangerous weapon thanks to his ability to penetrate and score in the face of multiple tall defenders.

Jackson’s offensive development culminated during Notre Dame’s 84-82 loss to Final Four-bound Georgetown during the semifinals of the Big East tournament on March 9. With Notre Dame trailing 76-69 late in the game, Jackson took Madison Square Garden by storm, scoring the next seven points with a dizzying array of reverse lay-ups to help the Irish tie the score. But even after Carter’s three-point attempt to win the game missed, Jackson kept the heartbreaking loss in perspective – thanks to his family.

“After that performance and we lost in the Big East tournament, I thought about my grandparents and my mom at that time,” Jackson said. “They always tell me to pray before the game. And I always wonder why we lose sometimes, but you can’t win every game. I called my mom after that and I was frustrated, but she helped me bounce back.

“… That’s the Mecca of basketball, New York. Just playing on that stage, getting out there with them lights, man, it’s like you’re playing on a stage. The adrenaline is always going. I want to get back there and I want to win.”

Jackson has three more seasons to lead the Irish back to New York and – with a little inspiration – beyond.