For most players, their college basketball careers start at one place, they serve their time, whether that’s one or four years, then take the next step in their careers. Some even transfer once, but Vance Jackson, the 6’9 220 pound forward from Pasadena, California isn’t just any player.
The 4 star, 77th best player in the country out of St John Bosco High School picked the UConn Huskies over staying home in California in 2015. When asked why he picked UConn, Jackson said that Daniel Hamilton, who spent two years there before going to the NBA, was his teammate since 8th grade and they played the same position, so they both wanted to go, and the Head Coach at the time, Kevin Ollie was also from California, so the relationship felt right. In that season, Vance averaged 8.1 points points per game, 3.8 rebounds, and shot just under 40% from three-point range, according to basketball-reference.com.
Image courtesy of ‘Whole Hog Sports’
After a one year stint at Connecticut, he decided to hit the transfer market and ended up at New Mexico. According to NCAA rules, unless a player is a graduate transfer, they must sit out a year. I asked how that year felt not being able to play with his team and what he learned from it. He responded by saying that it sucked because not being able to play is a bad feeling, but the positive is “you learn to love the game so much more”.
The next season, after having a year to prepare, he had a career year, increasing his numbers in nearly every category including five more points per game, four more rebounds per game, and shot over 40% from the field again. He made the All-Mountain West Conference first team and showed a glimpse of how good he can be.
This season, he got off to a slow start, but his numbers improved drastically towards the end of the season, averaging double digit scoring in 12 of his last 16 games. This includes games of 25, 29, 20, and 26 points during that stretch. He also started every game this season for the first time in his career, and this was because in his words, “(the) coaches method was different”, which is referring to last season compared to this one. While New Mexico was not going to make the tournament, Jackson played against people who would have and his reaction to the tournament being canceled was that it was a shock and all he could do was feel bad for the seniors. He thought they should have played the tournament without fans but ultimately it was out of his control.
These last 3-4 years have been wild, and his favorite memories include every big game in the pit (New Mexico State’s venue), and his performances in Vegas in the conference tournament. But now, it’s onto the final chapter of Vance Jackson’s college career, and that will be spent in Fayetteville, Arkansas. As a grad transfer, he is immediately eligible, making him a desirable option. When I asked why he chose Arkansas, he responded by saying that coach Eric Musselman has been recruiting him since he was at UConn, and he “has trust in my game and my role of being the leader”. As for what he’ll bring to this Arkansas team that went 20-12 last season, he will bring a combination of scoring, rebounding, and a winning mentality.
Every player models their game after an NBA or college player, and most say Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, even Stephen Curry, but Vance Jackson had a different answer, saying Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Tobias Harris. The reasoning behind this is they are the best of the best when it comes to creating their shots and versatility, something Jackson prides in his game.
As the next season nears (hopefully), players will have a lot of time to work on improving different aspects of their game. For Jackson, the two most important aspects are explosiveness and ball-handling, two skills that if mastered as a forward can put them above the rest of the pack. He will need those skills in the SEC, which is going to be a major jump in talent from the Mountain West with teams like Kentucky, Auburn, LSU, and Florida. He is looking forward to the challenge of playing all of them but most importantly the reigning conference champion and potential top 5 team next year Kentucky Wildcats.
Finally, every player sets goals for themselves and their teams, but Jackson doesn’t care about his personal success, all he cares about is one simple word, “winning”. Arkansas hasn’t won a conference tournament championship since 2000 and a regular-season title since 1994. With Vance Jackson on their team, this team has a shot of doing that and more. Keep an eye out for those Razorbacks next season, and don’t be surprised if Vance Jackson is learning the charge.