Junior guard Warren Jackson stood near half-court with an ear-to-ear smile on his face. The buzzer had just sounded on a thrilling overtime win against California State University Stanislaus.
Gators head coach Paul Trevor turned from shaking hands with the Stanislaus coach when he saw Jackson and the two immediately engaged in an emotional hug. Jackson had a “bad” game by his standards, scoring only 8 points and committing 5 turnovers, but his teammates picked him up. They had won their 17th game of the season and their third game in a row.
Jackson leads the SFSU basketball team in points per game (15.6), assists per game (4) and minutes per game (30.7). He is one of the core players on this year’s incredibly strong team as the Gators are currently 20-3, marking the best season in over a decade.
Jackson was named California Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s basketball player of the week for Jan. 30 to Feb. 5. He averaged 14.5 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.5 steals during the week.
“I’m pretty excited about the award. It was my first time winning it,” Jackson said. “But the main goal is to try and raise a banner this season.”
Though playing his second year at SF State has allowed Jackson’s talents to shine, his rise to success has been anything but easy.
“I grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood,” Jackson said. “Luckily for me I grew up with both of my parents, but a lot of kids where I’m from don’t have both.”
Jackson was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit has consistently ranked at the top of U.S. cities in having the highest crime rates over the years. According to USA Today, Detroit is the second most dangerous city in the U.S., with 1,760 violent crimes per 100,00 residents in 2015. Nearly 40 percent of the population lived in poverty and 12.4 percent of the workforce was unemployed. The financial crash of 2007 and its impact on the auto industry destroyed the city and state’s economy, pushing the city into a financial hole it is still trying to dig itself out of.
Basketball provided Jackson with an outlet to resources not available in Detroit. According to CNN, public school teachers in Detroit cite problems such as overcrowding and insufficient maintenance caused by the city’s economic problems as reasons Detroit kids aren’t getting a good education. The system puts these kids behind the learning curve, and the disadvantage presented is too steep to overcome for many inner city youth.
After playing for four years at a preparatory school in Michigan, Jackson received a call to attend Cabrillo College, a junior college in Santa Cruz. Jackson tore his meniscus in his first year at Cabrillo, forcing him to sit out the entire season.
After successful rehabilitation, Jackson tore his ACL the following season and had to sit out another year. But by this time, Trevor and the SF State coaching staff had already been scouting Jackson and ultimately recruited him to the Gators.
“He had a blown knee, but we were lucky enough to get him as a sophomore,” coach Paul Trevor said. “We loved how good of a teammate he was and his explosiveness.”
Jackson has carried those attributes with him to San Francisco. What makes Jackson’s story even more incredible is the setback he faced when he tore his ACL. When athletes tear an ACL, their explosion and overall athleticism usually declines. We’ve seen it with NBA players like Derrick Rose, Penny Hardaway, Gilbert Arenas and Rajon Rondo.
Despite Jackson’s knee injuries, he remains one of the most athletic players in the league. His explosion is one of the key cogs to the Gators’ offense.
“Warren’s explosive offensively,” Trevor said. “It helps him score and set his teammates up for baskets.”
Warren’s roots in Detroit have helped him in his role with the Gators. The blue-collar city has embraced its rough and gritty image, like the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons of the late 80s and early 90s. The team earned this nickname with its dirty play and rough style, becoming one of the most universally hated pro sports teams of all time.
“Playing ball in the West Coast has been different from my Michigan days,” Jackson said. “Out here it’s more of a finesse game. Back home it’s more of a gritty, hard-nosed game. People back home are trying to knock you down.”
The Gators rely on Jackson’s toughness to open things up on the offensive end of the floor. At 6 feet tall and 170 pounds, Jackson often attacks the rim, where near 7-foot behemoths lie in wait ready to make a play on the ball. Jackson will go chest-to-chest with bigger players down low, to either finish a layup at the rim or kick it out to a shooter on the perimeter.
“A lot of Warren’s game comes from attacking and having their big men help on him and him kicking out to us,” senior guard Nick Calcaterra said. “His ability to get to the paint and have great vision is a reason why we’re so successful.”
Jackson and the Gators will look to make a deep playoff run as the regular season comes to an end. Coach Trevor said the 2016-2017 team is the best he has ever coached, and with Warren and the Gators playing at such a high level, a championship banner could be added to the rafters.