Nov 12, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, IL - When Saluki guard Desmar Jackson takes the floor tonight in the season-opener at New Orleans, it will mark his first college basketball game in exactly 611 days. That's a long time on the shelf for a guy who calls basketball, "My passion."
The 6-foot-5 Wyoming transfer sat out last season and has two years of eligibility remaining at Southern Illinois. The Mountain West Conference's fifth-leading scorer in 2011 gave Saluki fans a taste of what he could do during two exhibitions, leading the team in scoring both times.
For a program that hasn't had a double-digit scoring guard since Kevin Dillard left after the 2010 season, Jackson's role on this year's squad is clear.
"Coach told me he wants me to score the ball and I'm up for the challenge," Jackson said. "I try to score any way I can, If I've got the lane, attack the lane, if not, shoot the jump shot."
Playing basketball has always come naturally to Jackson. Other aspects of his life have been a bit more complicated.
"Growing up, it wasn't easy," he explained. "In high school, I stayed with my mom. My dad was in jail a couple times. Sometimes he was there, sometimes he wasn't there."
"My mother kept me going and kept me focused," Jackson continued. "I'm still cool with my dad and we talk every week. That's the only dad I have, so I have to keep in touch with him."
Desmar Jackson makes his Saluki debut tonight.
Coaches have always been a big influence on Jackson's life. He played his freshman and sophomore years at a Catholic high school in Warren, Ohio, where his coach called every night to make sure he was doing ok. The same held true during his junior and senior years at Warren G. Harding High School, where his coach "made sure I stayed on right track."
"He's always trying to teach me lessons about life, how to be a better person," Jackson said. "He doesn't just talk to me about things on the court, it's more stuff off the court -- going to class, doing my homework, staying on me."
Jackson hopes to earn a living playing basketball someday. At 6-foot-5 and a wiry 173 pounds, Jackson seems to glide effortlessly on the court. He inherited his athleticism from his father, he said. His dad played two years of college football and was a gifted wide receiver and kick returner.
"He was very talented," Jackson said. "Everybody tells me he should have been in the league."
While Jackson's father never reached the pinnacle of pro sports, his son is driven to fulfill that ambition.
"Everybody's dream is to make it to the NBA, but if I don't make it, I'll probably try to play overseas," he said. "I have to stay focused, because I have a family back home that I want to be able to look after. I can't give up."
The University Studies major also has high hopes in the classroom.
"No one in my family on either side has a college degree," he said. "Getting a degree would be big for me and my family."