C.J. Jackson is a 6'-8", 265 pound post player out of Buena Vista, Georgia, who matriculated to Illinois four years ago to fill a need. Unfortunately, he didn't quite have the height and athleticm necessary to gain consistent playing time. But he is one of the friendliest players on the team, and his big smile is a constant.
"C.J.'s kind of the cuddly teddy bear that everybody likes," describes Illinois coach Bruce Weber. "I tell him he should go back and be mayor of his community because he's always shaking hands and hugging people."
Most people would get discouraged riding the bench their entire careers, but Jackson has adapted well.
"It would have been harder if we had a bad record, but we are playing well so I don't mind.
"It was fun. I had an opportunity to take in more than one thing here after the Final Four season, which was a great time to be in the University."
C.J. is referring to the fact he switched over to football during his junior year. He hadn't played the sport in awhile, but he wanted to give it a try. Fortunately for him, even though he saw no playing time, he missed the one losing basketball season in his four years on campus. Instead, he practiced daily with a Rose Bowl football team.
"I transitioned to football for a year, and it was one of the best seasons in Illini football history. So I've been blessed to be part of some pretty good times here."
C.J. had lost weight to play basketball, his first love, but suddenly he was asked to gain weight and strength for football. It seemed he was either too small for football or too big for basketball.
"Going from basketball to football was the toughest thing. I hadn't played football since 2004. It was a long transition. I put on a lot of weight I've been trying to take off to play basketball. So it's kind of been tough on my body physically. But mentally it's been a good ride.
"I came in as a tight end, but (Michael) Hoomanawanui was at tight end. So they made me a tackle, which required me to put on a lot of weight. I was at about 255 at tight end, and I kind of wanted to be around 270. They tried to make me into a tackle that weighed around 295-300. So I was just trying to pack on all the weight.
"And then by the time I got comfortable at that weight, I transferred back to basketball and had to get back down to 255. I'm still not back. But it's good, I got a taste and a piece of the Rose Bowl and enjoyed that moment. So it's doing fine."
The Communications major isn't certain of his future plans as yet, but he has some goals in mind.
"Hopefully, I will try to get my master's somewhere. I'll try to do what I can academic wise and then probably get into marketing, advertising. I'm just trying to put together as much as I can. Nothing clear cut right now."
The Southerner will likely return to his roots, but he will always have a soft place in his heart for his adopted home.
"It was worth the experience. I want to be somewhere the heat's at. The cold and snow is not my best friend. I'll miss many people that I worked with here. So no matter where I go, this place will always be with me."
C.J. Jackson was unable to make himself into a college star in either sport, but Weber says he got an intimate look at two successful programs.
"He's been pretty fortunate to be part of some NCAA runs and then obviously to be a part of the football team and get to go to the Rose Bowl. So he's had some great experiences along the way."