Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Ramsey: Palmer grad Reggie Jackson unchanged by fame with Oklahoma City Thunder

By David Ramsey Published: May 23, 2013

Reggie Jackson has not been swept away to jerkdom by the perilous tidal wave of sports celebrity.

He remains the same Reggie who arrived, fresh from Georgia, in Colorado Springs in the sixth grade with plans to start at point guard for Russell Middle School. He wanted more then. He wants more now.

He hovers on the brink of big things for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He surprised many, but not any of us who watched him at Palmer High, with a forceful performance in the NBA playoffs. He averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and only 1.9 turnovers in relief of injured point guard Russell Westbrook.

Someday, Kevin Durant will carry the Thunder to an NBA title, and I expect Reggie to stand at his side when the trophy arrives.

Reggie will continue to rise because he refuses to fall deeply in love with himself. This self-skepticism is fueled by an unquenchable hunger to improve.

"I thought I did OK," Jackson said, describing his playoff performance. "I have a lot to work on. You just have to stay humble."

These are not just words. He remains close to his friends in the Springs. When Jimmy Grantz, his Palmer coach, texts him, Jackson texts right back.

And it's not just Grantz. Nick Mitchell played on teams at Peterson Air Force Base with Jackson during middle school and later competed in dozens of pickup games alongside Jackson. Mitchell went on to start at point guard for Hilltop Baptist and Pikes Peak Christian.

Last summer, Mitchell was lifting weights at 24-Hour Fitness on Academy Boulevard when he glanced across the room and saw Reggie. Nick had not talked with his friend in two years.

"I wasn't going to say anything to him," Mitchell said. "And I figured since he had got famous he wasn't going to talk to me."

Jackson surprised him by walking across the room to say hello. Nick wanted to talk about Reggie's lavish life in the NBA. Reggie wanted to ask Nick questions about Nick.

"That was nice of him," Mitchell said. "It's cool that he's still down to earth, that he remembers where he's from."

Jackson will someday arrive as an NBA star. He soars to realms above the rim where few fly. He's quick, strong and blessed with exceptionally long arms.

But the prime reason for my faith goes beyond athletic gifts. Jackson constantly evolves as a player. When Mitchell competed alongside Jackson in junior high, he saw little dazzling.

"He wasn't crazy good," Mitchell said. "He was bigger than we were, but he wasn't so much better than us. He wasn't destroying everyone like he does now."

When Grantz first saw Jackson, he sensed Reggie could become the best high school player in the Springs. He did not see a journey to the NBA.

Jackson transformed himself through tireless labor. During the school year, he followed a ruthless routine, arising at 5 a.m. for an hour of lifting at the downtown YMCA, followed by 500 jump shots in the Palmer gym. He finished this routine before his first class.

He enjoyed the benefit of blossoming late. He didn't start as a sophomore at Palmer, and college coaches failed to chase him until the summer after his junior year. He finally became a teen celebrity during his senior season. Jackson averaged 29.6 points and carried the Terrors to 24 wins in 27 games.

Challenges remain. Jackson has a quirky jump shot that is virtually impossible to block, but he's long struggled to tame his release. During the playoffs, defenders from Houston and Memphis stood back from Jackson, daring him to shoot from long range.

These dares made sense. Jackson has dropped 22.3 percent of his 3-pointers since arriving in the NBA.

As a player, Jackson is difficult to define. He's not a true point guard or shooting guard or small forward. His versatility might be his greatest strength, but his wide range of skills confuses coaches.

Next season, Jackson should become the Thunder's sixth man, an ideal role. He can bring relief for his team at three positions.

The Thunder is the NBA's Team of Tomorrow. Next season, tomorrow could arrive with Jackson there to enjoy the title party. He just turned 23. So much could be ahead.

Expect him to keep trading texts with Grantz, to keep shaking hands with old friends in the Springs. And, of course, expect him to keep working with his trademark relentlessness.

He enjoyed a breakout performance in the playoffs, impressing everyone. Well, everyone except Reggie.

"I wish I would have done better," he said in that whisper of his.

There he goes again. No need to worry about the tidal wave.

-

Twitter: @davidramz

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