EDINBURG — Sheryl Swoopes was one of the greatest players to ever step onto a basketball court.
Swoopes won a national championship at Texas Tech, won four WNBA championships with the Houston Comets, was a three-time MVP, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and three-time Gold Medal champion at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004). She also became the first women’s basketball player ever to get a Nike signature shoe back in 1995: the “Air Swoopes.”
To UTRGV redshirt junior Jordan Jackson, Swoopes is Mom.
“I remember watching her play and making it look so effortless,” Jackson said. “It was second nature to her, like she could do it in her sleep. It was tremendous to watch.”
Watching his mother play only made Jackson want to give basketball a try himself.
“Even from a young age, I’ve loved the excitement and the energy the game brings,” Jackson said. “It’s like a safe place for me. Whenever I need to get away from anything, I look to basketball for that.”
Jackson graduated from St. Pius X High School in Houston. He selected Texas Tech to continue his basketball career, aware of the comparisons that were sure to follow him throughout campus.
“I got to a point where I stopped looking at it as pressure,” Jackson said. “Now I see it as a blessing. My mom, doing what she did on all levels of basketball, cannot be replicated by anybody. She did tremendous things on and off the court. I never set out to be better than her or do what she did. I look to her for guidance and she pushes me to be the best Jordan Jackson that I can be. I’ve just played the game the way I know how to play it and make a name for myself.”
Jackson departed Lubbock after his freshman season and joined on at Midland College, a junior college, in 2016-17. UTRGV coach Lew Hill coached against Jackson while he was an assistant at Oklahoma, but it didn’t appear he would come down to Edinburg.
“We didn’t have a scholarship for him available at first,” Hill said. “But when (Antonio) Green left, he (Jackson) and I were talking a little bit. Derrick Jasper, who coached him at Texas Tech and played for me (at UNLV), knew about him and obviously (UTRGV special assistant) Caleb (Villarreal) knew him too. I knew we were losing some shooting, but Jordan was going to bring us a different type of athlete that we didn’t have on the team. He’s a great athlete, so I wanted to teach him how to use his athleticism to become a basketball player. That was appealing to me.”
Jackson isn’t afraid to put his athletic ability on display. He is at his best in the open court. If he has any space or angle to drop a thunderous dunk on an unsuspecting opponent, he will.
“That’s just a certain mentality that you have to have,” Jackson said. “Coach Hill has told me that I’m one of the most athletic people he’s ever seen play the game. Being able to take off and finishing is a power thing. It also brings momentum to our team. Any chance I get to dunk the ball to get our team going or cause a momentum shift, that’s what I’m going to do. Whoever’s in front of me, I’m going to try to rise over you.”
“I want him to take chances. I want him to attack. That’s what we’re about,” Hill said. “He gambles when he takes charges for us. He gives up his body for the team, flying around. That’s what we want from him.”
Jackson and his UTRGV teammates will play this afternoon at the 2019 WAC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas. The Vaqueros, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, will face CSU Bakersfield, the No. 5 seed, at 4:30 p.m. central time from the Orleans Arena.
If this year’s tournament plays out the way the WAC regular season did, there could be a few surprises in store.
While UTRGV (18-15) is sporting its highest regular-season finish since joining the WAC, two teams in front of them struggled to put the Vaqueros away this season. UTRGV dealt No. 3 seed Grand Canyon its first home loss of the season Feb. 7. New Mexico State, the top seed, beat UTRGV by a combined 11 points over their two meetings.
“There’s a lot of great competition in the WAC,” Jackson said. “Anything can happen in the WAC, especially with how everything went in the conference. There are going to be a lot of great games. We’re not worried about any other opponent other than the one we have in front of us. It’s all about what we do. Hopefully we’re coming out of it as the WAC champions in 2018-19.”