With several Syracuse football grads struggling through the NFL lockout at the moment, let’s hope this year’s Orange in the NBA don’t have the same fate. Missing out on a team’s playbook for part of the offseason wouldn’t be as devastating for an NBA newbie as it is for an NFL first-year, but nobody wants two of the nation’s most popular leagues to halt at the same time, anyway.
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Regardless of how things play out with the league’s labor discussions, one outgoing Syracuse basketball senior will continue to bust his butt until there is NBA basketball to be played. That’s Rick Jackson, who improved each year on the Hill through work, drive and desire.
It’s too bad Jackson’s hard work may go unrewarded. Several top draft services currently project the Philly product as going undrafted. At best, some mock drafts have him as a late second-round pick.
How did Jackson slip down the boards? Tough to say. Anyone who followed Orange basketball could see how vital Jackson was to the team this past season. The big man made his senior year his most accomplished, leading the Big East in rebounds and blocked shots. His elite defensive production and refined offensive game can both be traced to the work he did over the previous summer, getting his body into better shape. RJ realized that with Arinze Onuaku gone, and two raw freshman centers coming in to replace AO, he would be relied upon to anchor the SU frontcourt. That’s exactly what Jackson did, and it seemed like a given during the season that he was at the very least going to get drafted.
Maybe we should have seen this coming when the coaches snubbed Jackson and left him off the Big East first-team. It’s mind-boggling how Division I coaches, who are supposed to be hyper-aware of all the nuances to the game, could relegate RJ to the second-team. Rick averaged a double-double for the season, while no one else in the Big East came close to his rebounding numbers.
There’s a basketball saying, “you can’t fake rebounding.” That sounds appropriate here. We’re talking about the nation’s most vicious, cutthroat, physical college basketball conference, and a player that absolutely dominated the boards there. And yet, Jackson can’t crack a list of the top 60 players exiting the college ranks? That simply doesn’t make sense.
There are certainly holes in RJ’s game. He’s undersized at 6-foot-9. He still doesn’t have anything beyond the most basic of post moves, and can only finish consistently over much smaller players. There’s also that stigma associated with Boeheim’s 2-3 zone that tends to scare NBA executives away.
Having seen Jackson play defense for SU all year long, there were plenty of signs that his defensive excellence can translate to the next level. He proved he can block shots on the weak side and the strong side. He has the mobility to provide excellent help-defense and the strength to win interior one-on-one battles. RJ’s offensive game makes him appear a little rough around the edges. But he’s actually a far more complete player than he gets credit for.
It’s a good sign for Jackson that he got invited to the “big boy” NBA Draft Combine, featuring the country’s top draft prospects next week in Chicago. There was some excitement that he attended a workout workout hosted by the Nets last weekend, but it turns out that was for mostly NBDL-level participants.
There are no doubts here that RJ is an NBA player. He’s not as flashy as Jonny Flynn or Wes Johnson, but Rick could turn out to be a far more valuable NBA contributor than them if given a chance.
Posted: Andrew Kanell