Thursday, February 9, 2012
For Jackson, a chance to show what he can do
By Pedro Moura
LOS ANGELES -- As far back as he can recall, USC forward Garrett Jackson has never lost more games than he's won in a single season.
Not at any level, and not at any sport, either -- and he played four growing up.
But that much is a virtual guarantee for Jackson and the USC Trojans this year. With seven games left in the 2011-2012 regular season, USC (6-18, 1-10 in the Pac-12) would essentially have to win out, take home the Pac-12 conference tournament championship and make a run to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 to even finish with as many wins as losses.
Suffice it to say, it's not happening to a team with just two wins since November and six scholarship players suiting up most nights.
There's not much else left up for debate for this Trojan team. The remaining seven games have probably two primary purposes, then: (1) Playing for pride, simply enough and (2) Finding out who's good enough to stick on next year's squad, when six new players are slated to be available and scholarships need to be cleared out for them.
Jackson, sophomore forward who occupied coach Kevin O'Neill's doghouse more often than not in his first 1 1/2 seasons with the Trojans, is a prime example of No. 2. Before teammates Evan Smith, Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon all succumbed to season-ending injuries, he was an afterthought, playing a combined five minutes in two mid-December games and scoring in double digits just once in the season's first 19 games.
But in six starts since Fuller was shut down for the season with injuries to both his shoulders, Jackson is averaging 12.3 points in 29.8 minutes, good for second on the team behind only Maurice Jones' 13.1 average. And Jackson is shooting 37 percent on 3-pointers, too, finally demonstrating the range O'Neill and Co. thought they saw when recruiting him out of Portland, Ore. in the class of 2010.
"Your teammates getting injured isn't the way you want to earn playing time," Jackson said after a practice this week. "But that's what happened. And I guess now I have to perform."
Perform he has -- of late, at least. Jackson scored just three points on eight shots when the Trojans played at Cal in December. Now, with the Bears in town Thursday to play the Trojans at the Galen Center (7:30 p.m. PT, KLAA 830 AM), he needs to produce a performance closer to his recent ones than his early-season clunkers.
Not that it gets any easier with the losing. USC lost to the Washington schools by a combined 35 points on the road last week. The Cal loss was actually the Trojans' closest conference game of the season until the win over Utah late last month.
Jackson said it has made for a tough transition. Even last season, USC went a respectable 19-15 and made the NCAA tourney.
"You grow up beating up on people in all the sports all your life, and now I feel like I'm in that spot," he said. "It's definitely humbling."
His worst-ever season, until this one, was his sophomore year at Westview High in Portland, when his team flirted with .500 for much of the season. But, even then, he finished the year ranked 20th in the state of Oregon.
It's unprecedented, for him and for most of the Trojans. And it took him a while to get used to, he admits.
"You play to win," Jackson said. "Winning is fun -- losing is not. It's definitely not been fun to lose. But it does make you realize how much the game means to you and how much you do enjoy basketball. It hasn't been fun a lot this year, but you still enjoy being in the gym and being here.
"It doesn't break you. It doesn't break your love for the game."