Chris Hine | Friday, January 23, 2009
Growing up, Tory Jackson didn’t possess a height advantage.As the 13th of 14 children growing up in Saginaw, Mich., Jackson constantly had to fight his bigger, older siblings for everything from toys, to the extra food on the dinner table, to who would do the chores around the house. It was rare when he came away victorious.”It was probably one of the toughest challenges I faced so far, fighting for everything and me being so little,” said Jackson, who’s listed at 5-foot-11. “The older kids, they got everything. They beat me to it or they were just too big and I couldn’t take it from them.”On the court, the results weren’t much different. For the first 13-plus years of his life, Jackson’s frequent foe, his brother Cory, one year his senior, always had the upper hand. When Tory was in eighth grade, he finally beat his brother. “We had a rivalry, it was like the Pistons and the Bulls and every rivalry you can think of, Michigan vs. Ohio State,” Jackson said. “I feel like our rivalry was tougher than all of theirs because we had to do everything, we had to fight for food, we had to fight each other growing up. It was always a competition.”That competition served Jackson well. To beat Cory and his other siblings, Jackson learned how to be a scrapper. He fought for every loose ball, fought for every rebound and used his quickness to offset his siblings’ height and strength, something he does to opponents every night in the Big East. While beating any member of his family in a game of one-on-one is no longer a problem, those early defeats helped form him into one of the best guards in the Big East and continue to inspire him to get better.”All the talent came I have came from God and it came from my family beating me up all the time back in the day,” Jackson said.
One man’s suspension is another’s opportunityOnce he got to Notre Dame, Jackson wasn’t playing as much as he’d like. Kyle McAlarney was Notre Dame’s starting point guard and the Irish also had scorers in the backcourt in Colin Falls and Russell Carter. Jackson got his minutes coming off the bench, something he never did in his playing career. “When I first got here, I was like, ‘I want to play right away,’ But that’s not the case all the time,” Jackson said. “This was the first time I was coming off the bench, all through high school all through elementary, everything, I always started, always played big minutes. Coming in, beginning of my freshman year, I had to play behind K-Mac, and it was one of those learning things.”Then McAlarney was arrested for marijuana possession just before Big East play started in the 2006-07 season and subsequently suspended from the University for the rest of the semester. Jackson was now Notre Dame’s starting point guard. And Jackson was ready to take over, thanks in part to his childhood. “It was one of those things, it kind of reminded me of my past,” Jackson said. “When I was growing up, it was a tough challenge, but I was raised to take [a challenge] and go with it. I didn’t let it phase me.”Jackson got off to a rocky start in his new role. He had three points and five turnovers in his first start against Stony Brook.”The first five minutes of the Stony Brook game, Falls and I kind of looked at each other because he had two turnovers and we were like, ‘Oh no, is this going to work?” Brey said.But those doubts about Jackson were erased in his second game as a starter when Notre Dame played Louisville.Jackson had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists in a 78-62 win on Jan. 3. Jackson grew up fast his freshman year. “To be thrown into that and handle it with the maturity that he did was really impressive,” Brey said.When Falls and Carter weren’t getting the ball as much as they might like, it was Jackson who took the blame and played peacemaker. “I respect them because they were a lot older and I expected them to feel that way,” Jackson said. “It was one of those things where I knew what was coming so I took the blame for it because I felt like I was strong enough mentally and physically to take it.”Jackson helped lead Notre Dame to an 11-5 conference record. The culmination of his season came against Georgetown in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. All the skills he picked up playing his older taller siblings seemed to culminate that night, when Jackson made a dizzying array of plays around the basket late in the game, including multiple reverse layups going into the paint against 7-foot-3 Roy Hibbert that caught the attention of everyone at Madison Square Garden that night. Even though Notre Dame lost in the final seconds, Jackson’s 20-point, eight-rebound and five-assist performance was hard to forget.”It was one of those nights, just playing on that floor, it’s always amazing to play there,” Jackson said. “It was one of those things where I was excited but at the same time had to hide it because it was in the middle of a game.”Showing such promise his freshman year, Jackson set the bar high for himself for the following year
Learning to adjustBy his sophomore season, the word was out on Tory Jackson. No longer would teams let him burn them the way he did Georgetown. They laid off Jackson to guard against his ability to drive, and tried to make him settle for jump shots. He ended up scoring 8.0 points per game, averaging an unusually high 5.1 rebounds per game for someone his height. Most likely a product of having to battle his older siblings for the ball in those one-on-one games when he was younger. But most importantly for his team, he led the Big East with 6.1 assists per game as Notre Dame finished 14-4 in conference play. It was a successful season by most standards, except his own.”I felt like it was one of those years where it was a down year from me,” Jackson said. “I expected a lot more, especially coming off that freshman year. I expected myself to be a lot better and I never really adjusted to teams’ defenses. “They finally knew about me. In high school I was playing different teams (Saginaw Buena Vista) It was one of those things where I was playing different teams and nobody had a scouting report, but in college everybody’s scouting you, they got something on you and I never really adjusted and tried to fix my game.”And where would Jackson turn to fix his game? His family.
Evolving into a completeplayerJackson knew he had to develop his jump shot headed into his junior year, and his family was there to help inspire him to keep working at it. Some of Jackson’s family members relocated to South Bend and worked out with him over the summer. Naturally, the Jackson’s couldn’t help but turn their workouts into a competition.”I was thankful for my brothers being around and at times we would be in the gym working out after hours or something like that, or just shooting around and they would start some kind of competition and the jump shooting would begin,” Jackson said. “So much competition, and it made you want to work and fix each other and see what was wrong with my jump shot.”As a result, Jackson’s touch has become noticeably softer this season. His arc has improved, and his shooting percentage has gone up. Jackson is shooting 43.3 percent from the field, up from 38.6 a year ago, and is 37.5 percent from 3-point range, up from 30.2 percent last season. He’s averaging 11.4 points per game, Notre Dame’s third-leading scorer this season. He’s third in the league in assists, averaging just under six per game. And he’s still averaging 4.6 rebounds per game.But this season, Notre Dame has struggled defensively on its way to a 3-3 record in the Big East this season and Jackson is taking it upon himself to remedy that. “I feel like defensively I should set a spark. Offensively not much should change, maybe shot selection. Defensively, I should set a spark. I think everybody else will feed off it.” But regardless of his statistics and regardless of winning or losing, there’s always one phone call Jackson makes everyday. “I’ll call my mom, [Sarah], because I know she’ll say something good, something that’ll really pick me up and even if I don’t smile, I have to fight it sometimes,” Jackson said. “I’ll want to be so tough, but she’ll say something to make me smile.”Jackson recognizes that his size is going to be an obstacle he’ll have to overcome to play in the NBA. It’s hard to predict where he’ll end up when graduates next May, but without his family, Jackson probably wouldn’t have any shot at all of making the league.