The buzz out of rural southern Ohio about Greenfield McClain star Dante' Jackson has been significant thus far in the high school basketball season. The 6-5, 185-pounder has done everything from run the point to play in the post, and has looked like a man amongst boys every step the way. Some have expressed skepticism over just what his dominance means because of the caliber of competition (which would likely be Class C in Michigan), but after witnessing his game first hand, his improvements are definitely legit.
Jackson is clearly a more fluid player in every aspect. He takes it to the hole better, has improved at finding his teammates, and has unquestionably enhanced his shooting ability. He poured in 25 points in 2.5 quarters of play in a 30 point win over London last Friday night, but that's considered an off night with the season he has been having. He had already exploded for multiple thirty point games and even went over forty once. With a resume like that, it's easy to see why Jackson expressed disappointment over not shooting and scoring as efficiently as he had become accustomed to.
McClain Coach, Rick Van Matre mentioned in a post game radio interview that he thought the pressure of recruiting and having to perform in front of college coaches like Bob Huggins (who was in attendance) may have finally gotten to his versatile standout. Dante', however, disagreed. "I don't think it has anything to do with college coaches coming around because I'm a junior now, and they've been coming around since I was a freshman," he said. "I'm kind of use to that. I'm not really sure what it is. It's probably a lack of focus. I know last week we had the biggest game of the year (against Hillsboro), and I thought I was focused, but we came out flat as can be. We got down 8-0 and had to fight for our lives the rest of the game. I don't know what to say about tonight. I'm disappointed. We won, so that's a good thing."
Coach Van Matre was very pleased to hear that all of the attention hadn't become a distraction. He has little doubt Jackson will shake out of his slump, (if you can call scoring 25 points a slump), and get back on track.
"Early in the year before we ever played, (coaches coming around to recruit) was really hot and heavy in scrimmages and stuff like that," Van Matre said. "He was really struggling. I thought that it might have been part of the reason, so I told him that if it continued I was going to shut all contact off with everybody. Then he started playing better. MUCH BETTER! At every one of the games there has been somebody here, and he has just played phenomenal. He has shot it unbelievably. But he's a human being. In the last couple of games he has struggled shooting it a little. Everybody is going to have bad games and shoot the ball poorly. Tonight he just wasn't totally focused. I had hoped the recruiting was not the issue. I've talked to him just like you and put him on the spot. He says it isn't. He's a genuine kid and he is always going to be upfront and honest with you. If he told you that, then I will go for that."
The previous two games aside, Jackson has been nothing short of spectacular this season. The biggest difference in his game this year is his ability to knock down the three-point shot with outstanding consistency. When he spoke with GoBlueWolverine this summer that was one of the areas he was looking forward to improving. If his performance to date is any indication, he has done that and then some.
"This summer I worked a little harder on my shot…trying to elevate a little more, trying to stay straight, and not throwing it back," explained Jackson. "I worked with (McClain athletic director) Mr. (Pat) Stevens. He's got probably the best shot around here (smiling). He has kept me from jumping backwards. I'm jumping straight up and down now and releasing at the top of the shot. Coach Van Matre and Coach Wisecup had a lot to do with it too."
Though Van Matre and his colleagues obviously played a significant role in Jackson's progress as a shooter, the veteran coach indicated that the young man was the one most responsible.
"I think it's just his confidence," Van Matre said. "Like I said, early in the year he shot it really really poorly in scrimmages. He was all banged up from football and I was a little concerned. But then he got going, and ever since then he has just been incredible. For instance, the other night he hit his first ten shots. In another game he hit his first seven shots and five of those were threes. He just totally dominated the game. He just gets so much confidence. I think for the course of three weeks, the basket just looked tremendously large to him and he just shot it very very well. At one time he was shooting 46% from three and almost 70% from two, which is just incredible."
Be sure to check back later for part 2 of our feature on Dante' Jackson.