Consider this play when thinking about the career of Rick Jackson.
In the second half of Syracuse’s 70-58 win over Notre Dame on Jan. 1, Jackson received the ball in the post and was met by Carleton Scott in the paint. Scott was joined by Tim Abromaitis, who pestered Jackson as he made his move.
Jackson took one dribble, turned using his right shoulder, and — while reducing both Scott and Abromaitis to helpless defenders — flipped a lefty hook that dropped through the net.
“Ricky’s been good from day one,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said earlier in the season to reporters. “He’s been consistent for us all year long.”
Consistent is one of many words that can be used to describe Jackson. Steady, dependable and reliable could also fit.
One of SU’s best
Jackson will play the final regular season game of his Orange career when Syracuse hosts DePaul on Saturday. When he finishes, it will have gone down as one of the most productive careers in Syracuse history.
Jackson is one of only five players in Orange history to record at least 1,000 points, 800 rebounds and 200 blocked shots. He ranks 10th in rebounds. He is one of only 54 SU players to score 1,000 points in his career.
“I’m just happy I had a chance to come here and make a name for myself here,” Jackson said. “I’m glad I came to Syracuse.”
Jackson arrived on campus as one of six players in Syracuse’s 2007 class. But when his name is called during senior day, he will be the only one there.
In that time, Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene have left early for the NBA. High school teammate Scoop Jardine took a medical redshirt year and still has one more year of eligibility. Sean Williams transferred and Ongenaet graduated.
“I still talk to those guys all the way down to Sean Williams,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to stay with it, graduate, get my degree for my parents and hopefully make a name for myself at the next level.”
But Jackson isn’t thinking too far ahead.
“I talk to those guys all of the time of how it is [in the NBA],” Jackson said. “They just said enjoy college because the next level is going to be all business.”
The thought of even playing at the next level has become a realistic possibility with the improvements Jackson has made to his game throughout his four years.
Jackson, like so many of his predecessors, came into SU primarily as a shot blocker and rebounder with a limited offensive game.
But Jackson worked extensively with Syracuse associate coach Bernie Fine on his offense, and by his junior year, Jackson had developed a lethal left-handed hook shot in the paint.
“He’s got that little hook down,” Boeheim said last year to reporters. “He has worked hard on it. That’s what it has taken for us to get better.”
Jackson wasn’t done improving. During the past summer, Jackson followed a rigorous weight-training program, which allowed him to shed 30 pounds. It has helped Jackson average more than 35 minutes a game this year.
“When you lose that much weight, you’re going to move better and faster,” Jackson said earlier in the year to reporters. “Coach [Boeheim] is more comfortable keeping me out there because I’m working hard and not getting tired.”
He didn’t stop there. Besides the physical conditioning, Jackson also willed himself into becoming an elite rebounder.
“I remember him telling me this summer that all he wants to do this year is average a double-double,” Kris Joseph said earlier in the year to reporters. “He’s not worried about anything else.”
Jackson’s done exactly that. He is averaging 13.1 points and 10.8 rebounds and leads the Big East in double-doubles. He has also led the Orange to a 24-6 record and has Syracuse poised for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
But it hasn’t been easy.
After winning its first 18 games, the Orange proceeded to lose six of eight. Syracuse, which was ranked as high as No. 3 at one point, dropped all the way to No. 20.
But the Orange is on the rise again. It has won four straight games, including wins at Villanova and Georgetown.
“We bounced back well,” Jackson said. “Now we’re just playing basketball and we’re starting to believe we’re a really good team again and we can beat anybody.”
It starts with Saturday’s game against DePaul.
“I just want to get the win and try to play hard in the last game,” Jackson said. “[I want to] close it out on a good note.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this story.Wesley Cheng