MADISON, Wis. — Overlooked might not be the best way to describe a basketball player who lands a full-ride scholarship to a Big Ten school. But at the very least, Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson found himself lost in the shuffle during his first year in the program.
As a freshman, there wasn’t much of a place for Jackson on the court with senior Jordan Taylor running the show at point guard. Taylor played 36.0 minutes per game, and when he wasn’t in, guard Josh Gasser often slid over to the point. Even with Taylor gone to graduation this season, redshirt freshman George Marshall was being hailed as Wisconsin’s point guard of the future.
Jackson figured he had better do something about it.
So, the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Westerville, Ohio, native met with Badgers assistant coach Greg Gard in the spring. Together, they ran down the list of skills Jackson needed to hone if he wanted to get on the court. Then, Jackson spent the summer working tirelessly to achieve his goals.
As the 2012-13 season approaches, it appears Jackson’s hard work has paid off.
Jackson is expected to be a significant contributor for Wisconsin this season, particularly in the wake of Gasser sustaining a season-ending ACL tear during practice Oct. 27. Even before the injury, Jackson said he was prepared to step in and play.
“Honestly, mentally you can’t come into this expecting just to back somebody up all the time,” Jackson said. “Unless you want to be that type of player. I’m just not that type of player. I felt that I was already ready for it regardless of how it happened.”
During the summer, Jackson went home to the Columbus area and worked under personal trainer Anthony Rhodman. Among the players in Jackson’s group were Michigan sophomore standout point guard and Columbus native Trey Burke, Wright State guard Darian Cartharn and Davidson guard Brian Sullivan.
Jackson said those sessions helped fuel his competitive drive. He often arrived at the gym at 5 a.m. and didn’t finish all his workouts until 3 p.m.
“You’re not going to just work out every day and just expect to come in last,” Jackson said. “You’re not going to get better. That’s just not how it is. We had some really good battles, and I think that prepared me a lot for this year and coming over here with the rest of our team.”
Last season, Jackson — son of former 14-year NBA veteran Jim Jackson — played in 17 of 36 games for the Badgers. He made 7 of 19 shots from the field (36.8 percent) and averaged 5.4 minutes, 1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds per game.
Badgers assistant coach Lamont Paris said he wasn’t surprised by Jackson’s development and his ability to crack the playing rotation.
“You come in here in the mornings, and I see him with chairs out here shooting and working out on his own with no managers here to rebound for him,” Paris said. “He’s chasing his own ball down. He’s been working hard. To say that you’re shocked that it would happen, you can’t be if a guy’s going to work that hard.”
If there is an area of Jackson’s offensive game that has improved the most, it appears to be his midrange jump shot. Jackson was among the players to shine during Wisconsin’s Red and White intrasquad scrimmage Sunday night at the Kohl Center because of his jumper. He drilled his first six shots and finished the game 7-for-8 from the field with 16 points, three assists and no turnovers in 39 minutes.
“I just think it’s more consistent,” Jackson said. “I felt like I’ve always had a nice pull-up. It just always got overlooked. It’s always been, ‘Oh you can’t shoot this. He’s terrible at shooting.’ I’m like, ‘No, that’s not the case. I haven’t gotten that many opportunities.’ When I got comfortable, when I just got that confidence, it helped a lot.”
The division of minutes at point guard will be known later this week, although Jackson and Marshall are expected to split duties in some capacity. Guard Ben Brust also could spend time at the point. Wisconsin plays against UW-Oshkosh in an exhibition game on Wednesday and opens the regular season Sunday against Southeastern Louisiana.
If Jackson has an edge on both Marshall and Brust, it comes in his ability to defend multiple positions. One of Gasser’s strong suits on the court was defending the opposing team’s best guard. Someone will have to fill that role for this year’s team, and it very well could be Jackson.
“He definitely can mix it up a little bit,” Brust said. “He can battle inside. He can guard guards outside. He’s got quick feet. It’s good skills to have, to have quick feet and to have a good build like he does because it makes you more dimensional and you can guard a lot of different guys.”
Added Paris: “You can get some minutes just on that alone.”
Jackson said his versatility allowed him to guard players as big as 6-4 or 6-5. And he sounded willing to embrace a defensive-minded role if asked. More than anything, he just wants to play.
“As long as I’m on the court,” he said, “the rest will fall into place.”