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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Jessica Jackson set to elevate Arkansas

By Walter Villa
Special to espnW

Jessica Jackson
Jessica Jackson was the catalyst for a turnaround at Jacksonville (Ark.) High School, leading a team that was 7-18 the year before she arrived to a 26-4 record and state title this season.

Even more than the rest of us, the Arkansas women's basketball coaches can't wait for Friday to arrive.

That's the day they expect -- at long last -- to receive Jessica Jackson's national letter of intent.

Jackson, who had committed to Arkansas in August but had reopened her recruitment to allow Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and others to make their pitches, is finally ready to sign.

"I've chosen Arkansas," said Jackson, who will make it official Friday, two days after the regular signing period begins. "I think the coaches at Arkansas want to believe me, but they're like, 'You keep saying that -- you say that a lot. But are you really coming?'"

The payoff for all the suspense will be well worth it for coach Tom Collen and his Razorbacks staff. They will be getting a 6-foot-3 prospect who is ranked 17th overall in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2013 class. The forward from Jacksonville (Ark.) will be the gem in a class that ranks 20th and also includes guards McKenzie Adams, Bria Pitts and Kelsey Brooks. Collen has said that trio might be the greatest collection of guards in school history.

Jackson averaged 22 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks as a senior, but perhaps her biggest accomplishment is what she did to lead Jacksonville to its first state title.

Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms first saw Jackson when she was a seventh-grader.

"She was always taller than everyone else, and you just knew she was going to be special when you watched her," Mimms said. "But she has improved her game so much, especially her ballhandling and her versatility.

"She could always score with her back to the basket. But now she is a threat outside as well as inside."

Jackson, a starter since her freshman season, made all-conference all four years and was a two-time all-state selection.

She helped transform a program that was 7-18 the year before she arrived to 26-4 and Class 5A state champions in her senior season.

But Jackson nearly wasn't around to see Jacksonville finally get crowned state champ.

In the fourth quarter of the title game, with her team up by 10 points, Jackson suffered an asthma attack. The game was momentarily stopped while trainers tended to Jackson.

"My heart started beating fast -- I was very scared," Jackson said. "I've had asthma since the eighth grade, but usually the attacks aren't horrible. It just happens every once in a while, especially during pollen season."

Dobbs She has improved her game so much, especially her ballhandling and her versatility.She could always score with her back to the basket. But now she is a threat outside as well as inside.

-- Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms,
on Jessica Jackson

Jackson said it had hit her only once during a practice and never previously during a game. She admits she hadn't been taking her medication but promised she will going forward.

When the attack hit, Jackson was taken to the locker room. She returned to the bench with 90 seconds left in the game, and -- to her teammates' credit -- the lead had grown by one, to 11 points.

Jackson tried to check back in for the final seconds, but her father, who had followed her back to the bench, did not want her to re-enter the game.

"It was my last [high school] game," Jackson said. "I said: 'Let me back on the court.' I was upset, but my dad said I will have bigger games in the future."

A sure sign of Jackson's dominance is the fact she had 22 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in a low-scoring state final despite missing much of the fourth quarter.

"I think everyone was just pleased she was OK," said Mimms, whose team ended up with a 54-43 win over Paragould.

And now, if Jackson really wants to make sure most sports fans in her state are happy, she just has to follow through with her promise to sign with Arkansas.

She said the only reason she wavered previously was because she saw other schools signing elite recruits and was worried the Razorbacks might not be able to compete.

But after watching Arkansas reach the second round of the WNIT, she was encouraged that the future was bright.

"Even though Arkansas didn't have all these All-American recruits, they were keeping up," said Jackson, who has a 3.3 GPA and is interested in studying dentistry. "I felt it was a good fit and I should probably stick with my first choice."