The Truman State men’s and women’s basketball teams played their final regular-season home game of the 2014-15 campaign on Feb. 2. Pershing Arena hosted a formidable going-out party for seven seniors. Between the two teams the student section was filled with more people than any home game this season, and the gym was filled near capacity. More students prepared poster board signs for the University of Missouri-St. Louis game than any other game throughout recent memory. One of those students was a 7-year-old Ray Miller Elementary student, sitting with two friends, holding a sign that read “#2 We’ll miss you Seth!” with a picture of senior guard Seth Jackson.
Jackson stands at 6’4”, and can score along the perimeter. He can drive and score at the basket. Head coach Chris Foster says Jackson’s finishing around the rim is just as good as anyone he’s seen at this level.
Jackson has been scoring 22.3 points per game, shooting 51 percent from the field this season. He has been averaging the better part of five rebounds per game and has gotten to the free-throw line 247 times this year. Jackson has the Bulldog record in single-game free-throws attempted and made, shooting 25 of 30 at Drury University Jan. 29. Jackson committed a career-low 50 fouls and only fouled out from one competition. He currently is leading the GLVC in scoring this year by 2.2 points per game.
Jackson says his father drove him while his mother inspired him to follow whatever dreams he had, which, for the latter part of his high school tenure at Christian Brothers College High, was to play basketball at the collegiate level. His father played basketball at NCAA Div. I James Madison University, and lost back-to-back years during the post-season tournament to Michael Jordan-led University of North Carolina teams.
“My dad had to grow up at a young age and take on a lot of responsibility when he was young,” Jackson says. “He didn’t want me to struggle for certain things. [He was] very consistent, being on me and making sure I was doing the right thing. My mom was the same way. Her big thing is happiness, and just enjoying whatever you’re doing.”
Jackson says happiness is a large part of his being, and to a certain degree, his drive to achieve as an athlete. Alumnus Tom Norton says he and his sister, senior guard Allie Norton, have become close friends with Jackson.
“We developed a great bond when [Jackson] was a freshman,” Tom says. “He’s a great guy to play with, but more importantly, he’s an even better guy to hang with off the floor. There’s nothing fake about him. I spent two years in college and after I left, he kind of took over that role of looking out for my sister. His real greatness has nothing to do with basketball, just the person that he is.”
Having Jackson to look up to is not the only reason that 7-year-old chose to wish him good luck in his last regular-season home game. Jackson says he knew the young boy sitting atop the folded bleachers on the north end of Pershing Arena. He says the sign bidding him off at his final scheduled home game meant more than the child ever will know.
Jackson says the boy’s name is Sam, and he comes to all of the home games with his family. A friend of Jackson’s was a Master of Arts in Education student at Truman, teaching Sam’s class at Ray Miller. The kids were assigned to write a book about someone they looked up to and Sam chose to write about Jackson. Jackson says Sam would interrupt class to talk about him and Jackson eventually got word of the hero Sam had chosen.
“I thought that was really cool and I’m like, ‘I want to go see him,’” Jackson says. “I went up there and his dad met me. He’s a little kid, but he loves basketball. You know, he understands certain things. In his mind, the two players there are, there’s Kobe [Bryant], and me. And so in his head they’re kind of one and the same. And I’m thinking ‘aw man, this is gonna be crazy.’”
Sam was speechless during his first encounter with Jackson. He says Sam’s classmates knew who he was because of everything Sam told them. Jackson’s presence excited the classroom, but Sam still was shy.
“That’s how I met him,” Jackson says. “And I’ve stayed in contact with his dad,.[Sam] talks to me before every game, and I love seeing him. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was just fun to be around him, and to know that he looks up to me.”
Jackson says Sam’s support was more notable to him than moving to 4th place in all-time scoring as a Bulldog or posting 42 points against Drury. His hard work earned him the recognition he says he deserves while impacting a child’s life, and for Jackson, he says that brings a bigger smile than any figures on paper ever could.
That hard work, says Norton and Foster, has been the base of all of his success.
“He’s not a kid that was necessarily born with all this God-given talent and he just walked into being successful,” Foster says. “He worked like crazy to make himself into the player that he is today. That’s what I’m most proud of him for.”
Foster says there always have been doubts about Jackson. He says he is close to many of the coaches and scouts that had the scoop on Jackson during high school, and many of those important voices felt Jackson was at risk because of his lack of a jump shot.
Foster says that has been plaguing Jackson since high school. He says Jackson was a good athlete who finished his plays, but he had more difficulty making shots. However, Foster says Jackson really has worked hard to change that, and is shooting over 40 percent from three this year. Foster says Jackson still understands he struggles with his jump shots, but because of his persistence, teams have to guard him in a different way now, and that makes him much more dangerous off of the perimeter or in the post.
“His whole time at CBC, I watched him improve, but he was raw talent,” says Danny Chastain, a teammate of Jackson’s during Jackson’s high school career. “He got to be a better shooter, he got to be a better ball-handler … when he started to get stronger, it made me realize that if he keeps improving, he’ll be able to do this to teams at the next level.”
Jackson says a vertebrae injury during the last few games of his college junior season built a flame under him coming into his final year, bringing a final head to his desire to improve. His shooting outside of the perimeter progressed from his sophomore to his junior season, but he still was not a consistent threat from any deeper than 15 feet.
“I had to take that time off and get back,” Jackson says. “I knew guys on other teams in the league had already been working and I was behind. I didn’t want any kind of drop-off — if anything I wanted us to get better. We’re about right where we were last year, but hopefully we’re not done anytime soon.”