Forty seconds into the second half, the senior center stole the ball from a Bulldog player. After kicking the ball toward the KU end, Darnell Jackson chased it down and set sail for the hoop. After dribbling over a fallen Yale player, Jackson spun around another, nearly fell, picked up his dribble and laid the ball in after being fouled. He also managed to convert the free throw in the face of a standing ovation as fans watched the replay on the scoreboard.
"For a guy that size to be that agile…steal it, kick it, run it down, fall down, dribble it and then do a spin move and finish – that was pretty good," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Someone asked Jackson in the post-game media conference if he had that move last year. Without hesitation, he laughed and said, "No."
Chalmers said it wasn't the best play Jackson's ever made – he said a tip-dunk earlier this season was number one – but he was quick to add, "That play was second, though."
Jackson's performance has been most welcome on a team that has waited for someone to emerge as a consistent inside presence. After averaging 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds over the first three years of his Kansas career, Jackson is averaging 11.5 and 6.5 through the first 13 games of his senior campaign. He scored 20 points, one shy of his career high, against the Bulldogs Saturday night.
It can't hurt that for the first time in his Jayhawk career, Jackson didn't come into the season with a major distraction, like a multi-game suspension or the death of a loved one, looming. That's played a key role in Jackson's performance and comfort level on the floor.
"He's confident," Self said. "He's playing with a free mind."
Jackson also had a unique opportunity to hone his game in his own backyard last summer, having been taken in by the players and coaches at Oklahoma City University.
"Last summer, I was in the gym like four, five hours every day," Jackson recalled. "If I didn't have a ride to the gym, I walked the two miles to the gym. I was at OCU, playing with their guys in the summertime and they showed me a lot of love. They were great. Coach (Ray) Harper told me anytime I needed to come there and get a ball, I could go in and work out. They respected me like I was one of their players. I got to play in their facilities. It was a lot of fun."
Jackson had only been in the starting lineup four times in his previous 85 games at Kansas heading into this season. He started the 2007-08 season coming off the bench but replaced fellow senior Sasha Kaun in the starting lineup against Florida Atlantic eight games ago. He hasn't looked back and has come into his own as a starter. He used to bring energy and emotion off the bench; now he does it from the opening tip.
That passion increases and becomes contagious as the game goes on, but Jackson says it's not his own production that drives him: it's the accomplishments of his teammates that get him fired up.
"I don't feed off my own success; I get my energy from my teammates. They do something – get a lay-up or get an and-one or make a three – and I get real pumped off that and just try to bring something to the team. Dive on the floor, make a good trap, make a good pass to Mario (Chalmers) for a three – that's what I get my energy from."