Reggie Jackson Answers The Call
There’s a reason why NBA coaches expect each member of their team – whether they average 35 minutes per game or two minutes per game – to practice hard and maintain conditioning with equal effort. In the blink of an eye, a season-ending injury may befall a rotation player, so every player must be prepared to step in and contribute.
That’s precisely what just unfolded for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Backup point guard Eric Maynor recently suffered an ACL tear; he’s facing surgery and looking at a 2012-13 return. The reins fell to rookie Reggie Jackson to assume Maynor’s duties as the second unit’s floor general. It’s a mixed blessing to get an opportunity for real minutes at the expense of a teammate’s fate.
“Unfortunately with his injury, I’ve had to step into that spot, “Jackson told HOOPSWORLD. “(It’s) a chance to carve out my role.”
Jackson explained how Maynor has been verbally helping him adjust since he can’t physically demonstrate anything at the moment.
“I love the way the team is, at the same time me and him (Maynor) do compete. All of us compete. He’s been hitting up almost like a big brother…congratulating me, telling me things where I can improve, really how to get the guys situated and what their tendencies are. We’re all helping each other out.”
Jackson exhibits rare confidence for an inexperienced and unproven rookie. He recently told those in attendance at the Thunder’s media day that he longed to be considered “one of the best point guards to ever play the game.” To some such a statement might reek of arrogance, but Jackson said it with such unwavering sincerity, one tends to believe he may indeed reach that goal.
He finds himself a member on a team with the best record in the Western Conference (10-2) at this moment. In fact, OKC is tied with the Eastern Conference leader, the Chicago Bulls. Jackson understands the lofty expectations placed upon this team to exceed last year’s Western Conference Finals appearance which, obviously, means reaching the NBA Finals. How about the pressure put on him now, given there’s no margin for error, to replace Maynor in the team’s bid to reach the ultimate showdown?
“There’s no pressure,” he answered. “We’re a team. We love each other. We all know we’re trying our hardest trying to play right, but of course, you make mistakes and you’ve got to move on.
“We love our fans,” Jackson continued. “But at the end of the day, it’s about all these guys in this locker room. If I have a tough day, I know they’re going to bring my spirits back up, and they know I’m going to do the same for them. You just go out with that mentality. At the end of the day in basketball, you can either win or lose. Make a shot, miss a shot, but you’re always trying to win, always trying to make each shot. You go out with that approach I think you’ll be fine.”
The athletic Boston College product blossomed in his junior year, averaging 18.2 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.1 three-pointers. The Thunder drafted the 6’3” guard, who has an insane 7-foot wingspan, with their 24th pick last June.
Prior to the Maynor injury, he had appeared in just three games and averaged 4:40 minutes of playing time. He scored 2.3 points, and that’s about it.
In the three games since he’s been crowned Russell Westbrook’s backup, he’s played 15.63 average minutes and logged 7.0 points at .450 field-goal percentage, 1.3 assists, and made five-of-five free throws. He’s thrown in a couple three-pointers and steals as well.
Already, Oklahoma City seems like the ideal fit for Jackson.
“Yeah, definitely a great fit,” he agreed. “This is the place where I really wanted to be. They’re winning. They’re young. Not too many people have their own family, so it’s kind of like that college atmosphere, except we’re all getting paid to do this at the same time. So we have our own money, our own little hobbies and kind of share them together.
“I learn from Kevin (Durant). (The) coaches are really working me hard, even Eric Maynor,” he added.
His teammates are also having some fun with the rookie.
“They asked me to do a little, of course, rookie duties such carrying a pink backpack or my bear, which really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s great we’re a young team. They really acclimated me well, and we all kind of blended well so far.”
Jackson did have a distinct disadvantage when the lockout finally ended; groin and abdominal injuries kept him from participating in the bulk of the Thunder’s training camp. It makes one wonder if he’s fallen behind the rest of the group with virtually no training camp and the fact the condensed season is resulting in limited, if any, practice days.
“Just be professional. You don’t see it as misfortune really; you’re just happy to play ball and roll with the punches,” Jackson explained. “I got injured. I really missed training camp, so I really didn’t have any, but you just find a way to get better each and every day.
“Even if it’s watching these guys work out and seeing how to approach it, watching film definitely getting myself acclimated with the offense and being a vocal leader from the sideline even though I was out,” he added.
It’s difficult to think of this young player, who has appeared in only six games so far, being a vocal leader, but he is. Add unselfish to the list.
Check out what he said at media day which caught most in attendance by surprise: “(My) personal goals for the season are to raise the statistics of my teammates. I really don’t care what I do. I’m not somebody that’s putting a high value on points or even assists. Hockey assists are cool with me, as long as I swing the ball and somebody else gets involved.”
The maturity and confidence he possesses at just 21 years old are impressive. His desire to help his new teammates, specifically Westbrook, reach their potential is downright surprising.
“Even though Russell is older me, I’m still trying to help him with his maturation. He’s definitely one of the best point guards in the league. His athletic ability and just his ability to score and what we demand of him as an organization and a team, sometimes he doesn’t get to be just the pure point guard. He really has to score. So hopefully I can come in and help him out with his responsibilities.”
Keep your eye on this young man. He’s been handed an unexpected chance to meaningfully contribute, and he figures to make the most of the opportunity.