ARLINGTON, Texas — It can be difficult to make a name for yourself in the Big Ten when your father is one of the best players to ever suit up in the league.
Well, Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson has one up on Dad now.
Jim Jackson was a two-time All-American at Ohio State, but never played in the Final Four like his son will do Saturday night when the Badgers (30-7) face Kentucky (28-10).
“He’s always had to fight to make his own name,” Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close said Friday about the younger Jackson. “And yet the great thing about it, he’s forged his own little niche on a team that’s in the Final Four, and running the show and really playing good, winning basketball.”
The elder Jackson is an analyst for the Big Ten Network. He posed with pride with his son for a picture before Wisconsin’s practice Friday, then helped interview him on the air from AT&T Stadium.
Not quite an intimate setting for a reunion, though Traevon Jackson welcomed the opportunity during such a hectic week. Father and son haven’t seen each other a lot during basketball season.
“This is one of the first times I have seen him all year. He has been working a lot,” the point guard said. “I am just excited to actually see him and spend some time with him.”
Two months ago, it didn’t seem like such a meeting would happen in the Final Four.
The Badgers limped through a 1-5 stretch at midseason, and Jackson’s struggles were part of the problem. His assist-to-turnover ratio dropped to 1.06, while he shot just 37 percent during the stretch.
Jackson’s struggle became a trending social media topic among Badgers fans. His decision-making was questioned.
But Ryan stuck with his go-to guy in the clutch. Jackson, a junior, had experience coming through in key spots – like when he hit a pull-up jumper from 10 feet with 2.1 seconds left in overtime to lift Wisconsin over Michigan State 60-58 on Feb. 9. He hit three game-tying or winning jumpers in his first year at the point as a sophomore.
Close said it was only a matter of time for the hard-working Jackson to get back on track.
“You won’t find a guy that works any harder … and guys like that can get through stretches where they may not play very well,” Close said. “They have the confidence of ‘Hey, I put my time in, this is just a stretch where I’ll play my way out of it.'”
Jackson’s assist-to-turnover ratio is up to a much more palatable 2.07 since the midseason slump. It’s even better in the postseason at 2.25.
In the NCAAs, he’s hitting 41 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range. On a team that prides itself on discipline and efficiency, Jackson is averaging just two turnovers a game.
Perhaps most importantly, Jackson is 17 of 19 from the foul line during the NCAA tournament. Jackson credits his growth to his maturity off the floor.
“Spiritually, I am more grounded now. I am a lot more focused on college rather than me,” he said. “It is just helping out when I am on the court.”
Now comes Kentucky on Saturday night in what figures to be another test of tempos. Wildcats point guard Andrew Harrison said his team would like to get stops and break out in transition.
Teams have been trying to get Wisconsin to play up or down to their preferred tempo all tournament long. Jackson has adapted each time in steering Wisconsin into the national semifinals.
His father will likely be beaming with pride on Saturday night.
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