Syracuse's Rick Jackson Trims Down, Gets Hungry
A year ago, Rick Jackson was a guy heavy on potential for the Syracuse Orange, and, well, just a little heavy.
This season, Jackson is 25 pounds lighter and has become a double-double waiting to happen for the surprising fifth-ranked Orange. The 6-foot-9, 239-pound big man has managed a double-double in eight out of 10 games for Syracuse this season, making it more of a story when he doesn't hit the mark.
The increased expectations are fine with the senior, who is growing, or perhaps more accurately, squeezing into the role of team leader as well as offensive force.
"My mission is to get as many rebounds as I can before I even score because I feel like I can score in the flow of the game," said Jackson, who managed just three double-doubles in the 35 games he started for Syracuse last year. "Getting rebounds is going to create opportunities for me to get baskets. So, when I am out there, scoring is not really what I'm thinking about. I'm more thinking about rebounding than scoring."
Naturally with forward Arinze Onuaku gone, more of the scoring responsibility inside has fallen to Jackson. He's responded by being even more active on the boards and generating points off offensive rebounds.
That was never more evident than last Tuesday night when Jackson and his 17 points and 16 rebounds led the Orange to a convincing 72-58 win over Michigan State during the Jimmy V Classic at New York's Madison Square Garden. Jackson simply overpowered Spartans forward Draymond Green with his quickness and explosiveness around the basket.
"He's been doing it since Day 1 this year," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team is now a perfect 10-0. "He's been a monster inside, defensively, offensively, rebounding. He's been tremendous. He's been stable and steady every game for us. He's been there every game. He's been as good an inside guy as you can ask for."
Part of Jackson's growth has come with the realization that he along with teammate and longtime friend Scoop Jardine will have to lead the Orange if they have any hope of the surviving the Big East this season. As a result, Jackson has taken a much more serious approach both in practice and in games.
His teammates have certainly noticed a big difference.
"He's a senior and I feel like you can see the hunger in his eyes before we step out there," said junior forward Kris Joseph. "He approaches every game like a professional. He doesn't fool around before the games like maybe he would his sophomore or junior year.
"He's really taken it upon himself to take on that leadership role as one of the leaders and just lead by example. He is trying to get after every rebound and averaging a double-double."
Much of his increased activity in the post can be attributed to slimmed-down frame, which came at Boeheim's urging. Jackson is now a lot quicker than most in the paint, while his endurance has also been a key factor.
"I'm lighter, more mobile. I can bang with guys and find my way around the glass," said Jackson, who is averaging 14 points and 12.5 rebounds after coming off an 18-point, 10-rebound performance in Saturday's win over Colgate. "I have a knack for getting rebounds and it's just paying off right now."
Boeheim says he has also noticed a change in Jackson but he won't attribute it all to the weight loss. He believes it has much more to do with Jackson's determination in all facets of his game.
"I just think he's made up his mind. He's been a good rebounder, but this year he doesn't have help out there so he is taking it upon himself to do a better job on the boards. I just think he is more focused there.
"The weight helps his stamina I think, but he's just determined to go get the ball."
Jackson's desire has opened up opportunities for the Orange's perimeter players and it's also opened possibilities for the team that may not have seemed realistic coming into the season.
"We are going to have to feed off of Rick. He eats everything off the glass, that's how he gets his points," Joseph said. "He's going to be big because we are going to need him to suck in people inside and get us open shots. So we are definitely going to need him to keep playing at his high level in order for the entire team to be successful."
A smaller man, a bigger role.