For most Ohio State fans not quite old enough to remember the days of John Havilicek or Jerry Lucas, Jim Jackson is the man that would likely be named the most popular basketball alum on a Buckeye version of family feud.
"Family," is an operative word.
Though Jackson is 15 years removed from his last game played in an Ohio State uniform - a crushing 75-71 Elite Eight defeat to rival Michigan in the 1992 Southeast regional final in Lexington, Ky., thanks in part to the efforts of Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, Jackson remains very much part of the Buckeye Nation.
"I think Coach Matta is doing a great job of taking a page out of the football book," Jackson told Scout | Ohio State in a Thursday exclusive interview. "He's bringing guys back in and showing the history and tradition of this program. I think he's really made a lot of the former players dating back to the 30's and 40's welcome back in the family. He's an Ohio guy in a way because he has some blood lines to this state and he's really embraced the tradition of Ohio State."
Jackson has seen many changes in the Ohio State basketball program since his three-year career ended before being named the No. 4-pick in the 1992 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks. For starters, the man that recruited Jackson - then assistant Randy Ayers under head coach Gary Williams, coached Jackson from 1990-92 after Williams left for his alma mater Maryland.
However, in 1997, Ayers was dismissed by Ohio State for both several losing seasons and a rash of off-the-court incidents involving basketball players.
Seemingly, Ayers' replacement Jim O'Brien cleaned house and restored the program back to prominence by dismissing three players and the following season, led the Buckeyes to the 1999 Final Four. O'Brien was fired himself in 2004 for NCAA violations regarding former player Slobodan "Boban" Savovic. But even the friendly O'Brien rarely brought together former players in his tenure.
Now Jackson and dozens of former Buckeyes often watch practices, visit Matta at his home and pop in and out of the gym to give the program a sense of nostalgia. Jackson, who remains close with the current Orlando Magic assistant, has enjoyed the program's direction under Matta.
"He's really set the standard," Jackson said.
The 6-6 forward from defunct Toledo Macomber-Whitney High School joined the Buckeyes in 1990 as one of the nation's top-rated freshmen. A former McDonald's All-American, Jackson averaged 16.1, 18.9 and 22.4 points per game in his three collegiate seasons - the last two of which he was named All-American.
Jackson left Ohio State after his junior season. He was able to win the Big Ten Championship in his tenure. However, the disappointing overtime loss to Michigan and the "Fab Five" left him shy of a Final Four appearance.
"I think about it all the time," he said, acknowledging they were close. "It was one of our biggest team goals to make the Final Four."
The Buckeyes had defeated the Wolverines twice that season. But Michigan got Ohio State when it counted most.
"When I played in Sacramento and Houston," Jackson recalls, "I had to hear it from Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. It was tough because that was our ultimate goal."
Many people have often wondered what opposing players think of the Fab Five legacy involving the late booster Ed Martin.
But for Jackson, it's a non-issue.
"We may mess around with them and say, 'hey, give us our ring,'" he explains, "but they just beat us. We don't think about it - they were better than us on that day and deserved to win."
Only Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner were picked ahead of the 1992 UPI National Player of the Year in the NBA draft that season. After a lengthy holdout, Jackson joined the Mavericks late his rookie season and began the first of 14 seasons in the NBA with Dallas, New Jersey, Golden State, Portland, Atlanta, Cleveland, Miami, Sacramento, Houston, Pheonix and the Los Angeles Lakers.
That's 11 teams in 14 years.
"It was different (playing for that many teams)," Jackson said. "It was a gift for my business career that I got to live in so many different cities and meet so many different people. I've met a lot of great business contacts over the years.
"But on the court, you can't play the kind of baketball you want to play on so many different teams and in so many different systems," Jackson added.
For the last seven years, Jackson has been getting involved with his business career beyond basketball. On the side, Jackson has run the Jim Jackson Development Company - his own real estate firm. With his basketball career over with in entirety, Jackson also works for the Quest-3 Development company.
"My whole career I wanted to get involved with business," he said. "I've always wanted to have something to fall back on."
Basketball is still a major part of Jackson's life. His son is 14-years old and lives in Gahanna. Jackson makes it a point to watch many of his games.
And then there's Ohio State.
Though Matta has embraced the former players such as Jackson, he says it's not quite the same as when he played. Jackson still vividly remembers the days of the rocking St. John Arena.
"St. John was right on you - the atmosphere was better," Jackson said without hesitation. "The Schottenstein Center is nice but it's a corporate atmosphere. It's all about money. It takes away from the game and the student involvement without having them around the floor.
Even the business-minded Jackson said he hopes Ohio State continues to make changes to the seating arrangement.
"You hope they would be able to get the students more involved," he said. "What's a college atmosphere without the students? If there are no students in that kind of arena, you would just go to the pros and get paid to play in front of that kind of crowd."
Speaking of the pros, Jackson also commented on the departure of Ohio State's talented freshmen trio Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook.
According to Jackson, who was already entering Ohio State as a freshman when they were born, basketball isn't the biggest issue to consider when they enter the league (or in the case of Conley and Cook, decide whether to return for another season.)
"It's a completely different lifestyle - that's the biggest change you have to make," Jackson said. "A lot of the kids in the league are African-Americans that come from the inner-city. They don't have a lot of money growing up. You've got people pulling at you a hundred different directions and a lot of people are calling you and needing money or needing help.
"It's very tough," Jackson explained.
But Jackson said it's more rookie-friendly than when he played.
"The league is much younger now," he added. "You're basically playing against guys your own age."
Jackson also acknowledged that in getting "younger," the league has sacrificed opportunities for many older veterans. He said he's taken notice of draft strategies by NBA general managers to draft more on potential than production.
"You're squeezing out the guys that have paved the way for the league," he said. "You're taking jobs away from the guys that have been around a long time and won games for you. Teams are looking more to develop young talent instead of taking proven winners. Sometimes I wonder if you want to win or if you want to develop young players."
The unfortunate reality for guys like Jackson, who despite 12,690 career points (14.3 average per game), is that teams are looking for the next Kevin Garnett. The next Kobe Bryant. The next LeBron James.
And that's how 11 teams apparently didn't have room for a 14-point scorer like Jackson coming off the bench for very long.
But the former Ohio State standout is hardly shedding any tears. Jackson has begun his full-time career in real estate and looking for the next big venture.
"It's better because I have more hands-on experience now," he concluded. "Things get lost in the shuffle when you're not involved all the time. I've learned a lot through the years."
Although even younger Buckeyes fans may know No. 22 as the number of Michael Redd, who is bolstering his name among the NBA's elite scorers, Jackson made the number popular nearly 17 years ago. And few are soon forgetting.