Jackson excited for senior season

Lakeem Jackson's final season at South Carolina is set to begin in less than a week with an exhibition contest. Under the direction of new coach Frank Martin, Jackson and his teammates have spent the preseason learning a new style of more aggressive play on the defensive side.

When a coach leaves a university or is let go, the athletes left behind have a difficult decision to make. Some decide to leave and transfer to another program and others decide to stick it out and give the new coach an opportunity. The South Carolina men's basketball program went through that scenario following the 2011-12 season when head coach Darrin Horn was relieved of his duties. Anthony Gill and Damontre Harris both asked for permission to speak with other schools and both decided to transfer. Gill is now at Virginia while Harris decided to stay in the conference and transfer to Florida. Last week Harris dislocated his shoulder and suffered a torn labrum when a teammate fell on him during practice.

Senior Lakeem Jackson also asked himself the question about whether or not to seek a transfer, sit out this season, and play one final season as a redshirt senior for another program. It did not take long for Jackson to dismiss the notion and return to the program he committed to coming out of high school.

"It was definitely a thought, but I never really acted on it," Jackson said on seeking a possible transfer. "I just wanted to know who was going to be the new coach and when they said it was going to be Coach (Frank) Martin I knew what kind of resume he had, so I was definitely ready to play for him."

Martin certainly has built quite the resume in a short amount of time. In just five seasons at Kansas State, Martin took the program to unprecedented heights and elevated himself as one of the elite coaches in basketball. In five seasons with the Wildcats, Martin took his team to four NCAA Tournaments and his 2009-10 team advanced all the way to the Elite Eight. Martin is also famous for his stare that could intimidate the toughest of players.

Martin brings with him a defensive presence that is designed to pressure the ball and force the opponents into feeling uncomfortable and make mistakes. Horn was a defensive-minded coach that believed in pressing the opponent, but often used a zone-press. Martin believes in getting right up in the ball-handlers face from the time he touches the ball until he releases it. That plays right into the hands of Jackson, who's speed allows him to cover anyone on the court and his length will make it difficult for anyone to get the ball around.

"It's different," Jackson said. "It took us a while to get it down. For me personally I like it. It's trying to take advantage of the offense and making them do things they don't want to do. That's always a plus.

"Intensity is going to be amped up a lot," he continued. "You have to be ready to play and go 100% all the time."

LaShay Page, who played against Martin's team last season in the NCAA Tournament, said it was difficult just to get the ball across halfcourt. Kansas State baited players in to going back door where their shot blockers waited for the block. While South Carolina does not have the height Kansas State had, they do have shot-blocking ability. R.J. Slawson had 20 blocks last season, Carlton Geathers had 17, and Jackson has 27 career blocks.

"We don't really have a lot of height, but we have a lot of athletic players," Jackson said. "Whenever you bait someone into going back door their first instinct is to go lay it up, and you have a 6-8, or myself at 6-5, or a 7-footer coming to block it. Even if we don't block it we can alter the shot so it's going to be a plus for us."

In his preseason press conference, Martin said that he felt like Jackson had been fed all the negative aspects of his game instead of the positive. The four-star prospect from Charlotte has slowly seen his production drop in each of his previous three seasons. His junior season saw a low of just 17 minutes per game after averaging nearly 30 minutes in his first two seasons. His points per game average dropped to 3.2 points per game after averaging 7.2 his first season and 7.8 his sophomore season. Martin has asked Jackson to just do what he does and do it to the best of his ability instead of trying to be someone he's not.

"He's definitely doing that," Jackson said. "He's just making me play my game and making sure I'm not thinking about things I shouldn't be doing. He just wants me to do what I do best and being good at it.

"If I mess up I never dwell on it," Jackson continued. "I just learn from it and keep going."

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