A giant of a man in heart and stature who built one of the nation's most influential girls' basketball club programs, Marques Jackson of Duncanville, Texas, died on Sunday morning at age 46 of a heart attack.
In its seventh year of existence, Jackson's DFW program has churned out a parade of women's basketball stars, including his own daughter, Tiffany, who plays for the WNBA's New York Liberty and was an All-American at Texas. DFW alumni also include Brittney Griner, the NCAA tournament star at Baylor, and Brittainey Raven, a senior at Texas, among others. The program has plenty of future stars, including Odyssey Sims, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) high-school player of the year and Baylor signee, and Moriah Jefferson of Glenview, Texas, one of the top prospects in the 2012 class.
Jackson also leaves behind coaches such as Damion McKinney, an assistant at Baylor who helped found the DFW program. McKinney called Jackson a "teddy bear" whose loyalty and concern for his players, as well as his conciliatory nature, drove the program.
"Once you encounter him, you know he has your best interest, you know he cares about you," McKinney said. "It's the way he spoke. He spoke real slow, just kind of calming words. He was never in a panic."
The program director of DFW Elite, Jackson was remembered mostly by colleagues and partners gathered at his house for creating and ferociously safeguarding opportunities for girls in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Darryl Horton was tabbed from the boys' side by Jackson, his friend of more than 20 years. Horton said he hadn't considered the possibility of coaching girls until Jackson set out to form the DFW program.
"He wouldn't ever leave a girl behind, no matter what the family's financial circumstances were," said Horton, who has coached the program's elite team. "Whether the girl was our No. 1 player or our No. 100 player, he did what he had to do for her. That always motivated me. It made me understand what this all really is about -- the kids. He had a really big heart when it came to the kids."
The DFW program rose to prominence when, in its second year of existence, it won the adidas Showtime Nationals in Atlanta, with a team led by Raven. Two years later, the program signed with Nike, winning two major tournaments and finishing second in the prestigious Nike Nationals. Mary Thompson, director of Nike grassroots girls at the time, said she sought out the DFW program in large part because of Jackson's reputation among players and parents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"This obviously is a blow to women's basketball," Thompson said. "Marques was very true to himself, which is why I liked him so much. He said what he wanted to say. He never hid from anyone or anything."
DFW coaches said the program's teams will continue to compete and carry on Jackson's legacy. The program continues to be sponsored by Nike.
"The Nike Basketball Family is very sad to hear of Marques' passing this morning," said Jill Pizzotti, Nike's Manager of Women's College Basketball. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Marques, his family, and the entire DFW program. Marques positively impacted hundreds of young ladies over the years. We will miss Coach Jackson's leadership and commitment to girls' basketball."
Gentle but gregarious and quick-witted, Jackson was most often seen on the bench of one of DFW's eight teams and working behind the scenes, though he continued to coach and help in player development. He was described by his friends and coaches as a tireless worker who often got by on little sleep. The hulking Jackson suffered from diabetes, but friends say he seemed recently to be in relatively good health.
A former star in football at Central Oklahoma University, Jackson was lured to girls' basketball by his daughter, Tiffany, who as a 6-foot-3 senior at Duncanville High School was named the WBCA's player of the year. The DFW program very much became a Jackson family affair, with his wife, daughter and mother pitching in at the program's tournaments. The program's top team is called DFW T-Jack, after Tiffany Jackson.
"It had to be a special team for him to use that name," McKinney said. "Now that's every kid's ambition around here is to play on T-Jack."
Jackson had been discussing next weekend's Boo Williams Invitational exposure tournament with Josephine, his wife of 15 years, and was at his computer when he collapsed, according to Tony Grant, the club program's manager.
Among Jackson's final words are said to be an admonishment to ensure the DFW players were cared for.
"That is so Marques," Thompson said. "This is a big loss for all those kids."
Chris Hansen contributed to this report.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.