Badgers PG Jackson cleared to play but will sit for opening weekend
OMAHA, Neb. — Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson has been physically cleared to participate in Badgers practices all week. Mentally, however, more hurdles remain. And so, the only game Jackson will play this weekend in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament is the waiting game.
"I’m not playing tomorrow," Jackson said Thursday in the locker room before Wisconsin’s brief shootaround at CenturyLink Center. "I don’t plan on playing this weekend, honestly. I wanted to be able to make sure I could go through a full practice, a full workout."
No. 1 seed Wisconsin (31-3) begins its NCAA tournament against No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina (24-9) at 8:20 p.m. CT Friday. And for the 18th consecutive game, Jackson will not participate. Jackson, who suffered a broken right foot on Jan. 11 against Rutgers, told reporters Tuesday he was "50-50" to return for the weekend. But Badgers coach Bo Ryan said he has yet to involve himself in any possessions.
Jackson’s goal now, he said, was to be ready if Wisconsin reached the Sweet 16 next weekend in Los Angeles.
"Everything is up to me now," Jackson said. "I’m cleared. I’m fully cleared to go. But it’s off of my feel and how I feel when I’m running and when I’m jumping and doing all of those things. It’s different. If I was playing football, I would be definitely back out there. But basketball is so much cutting, especially the way I play, it’s a lot to the rim. So I want to be fully there."
Jackson is averaging 9.4 points and 2.9 assists in 27.4 minutes per game this season. When he sustained his injury, he had started 84 consecutive games. If he returns, he’ll presumably take on a reserve role, as Bronson Koenig has thrived since taking over for Jackson at point guard. But until teammates see how much Jackson can give in practice, determining his potential impact in games remains a challenge.
"I think with Trae, his foot might be cleared, but he’s not ready," Badgers center Frank Kaminsky said. "Obviously he might be scared of hurting it again or something happening. We’re playing so well right now, we just need Trae to be the emotional leader he’s been throughout the season. When we look at a guy like Trae and see how he’s handled the whole situation with positivity, it lifts up the spirits of everyone else. I think some wins will do good for him."
Jackson, a senior, described his situation as "90 percent mental" and has said he is comfortable with the idea that he may never play in a Wisconsin uniform again. He has continued to make progress, but until he functions at a level that meets his standards, he will not push to play. He said he was asked to jump into a live practice scenario earlier in the week but declined.
"I’m not going to go out there hobbled and be a detriment," Jackson said. "I want to be myself. The good thing is that I’ve literally made significant strides each day. It’s been great to really get stronger just around my ankle, around the foot part. The actual side of the injury is fine. It’s just around the other parts of the foot."
For now, then, the waiting game continues another week. All Jackson can hope for is a Sweet 16 appearance for Wisconsin and at least one more opportunity to suit up in a Badgers uniform.
"Lord willing, I’m going to be there," he said. "My goal is to just be there for practice 100 percent. I didn’t want to come back and go half way. I want to be all in. So that’s my goal."
Wisconsin ties: Coastal Carolina guard Josh Cameron has a particular familiarity with the Badgers as the only Chanticleers player on the roster from Wisconsin. Cameron, a Racine, Wis., native, attended three high schools in three years before attending Connors State College in Oklahoma for two years.
He averaged 20 points per game as a sophomore at Parkway Christian School in Oak Creek, Wis., just northwest of Racine. As a junior, he averaged 24 points a game at Kenosha Christian Life School. And in his senior year, he earned fourth-team Associated Press all-state and all-Racine County for Racine Park High School, when he averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 rebounds on a 25-1 team.
"In high school, they never really tried to recruit me," Cameron said of Wisconsin. "My style of play is a little different than what they teach and what they expect. So I never really expected them to recruit me in high school. It definitely adds a little fuel to the fire knowing it’s my home state. I know a lot of people at home are going to be watching. It’s a very exciting time for me and my teammates."
Cameron said his cousin is former Badgers point guard Jordan Taylor, and he noted he knew Wisconsin’s swing offensive system from watching the team over the years. Though he didn’t cross paths with any current Badgers, Wisconsin players said they expected him to be especially motivated to perform well.
"Usually in-state guys try to play pretty well against us, and they usually kind of do," Dekker said. "So hopefully we can keep his confidence as low as possible and not let him get some easy shots."
This season, Cameron is Coastal Carolina’s second-leading scorer (12.9 points) despite playing the fifth-most minutes on the team. He has started six of the team’s 32 games.
Chanticleers coach Cliff Ellis said he saw Cameron play at a junior-college tournament while trying to recruit a different player. And when he saw Cameron lighting up the scoreboard with jump shots, he knew he could make an impact in the Big South Conference.
"I’d never seen him before," Ellis said. "And what I saw in that junior-college tournament is what he does. He was knocking shots down left and right. My gosh. I actually went to see another player on that team. I said what is that? He’s been a pretty good cheesehead."
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