Kerr impressed with Wisconsin's Jackson
Turner Sports analyst Steve Kerr had a front-row seat to watch Wisconsin oust Baylor and Arizona in the NCAA West Regional to secure a berth in the Final Four.
An outstanding shooting guard at Arizona from 1983-'88 who later was a part of five NBA championship teams, Kerr raved about the play of UW junior Frank Kaminsky, the Most Outstanding Player of the regional.
Yet Kerr was also impressed by the performances of another UW player.
“Obviously the focus has been on Frank Kaminsky,” Kerr said this week during a national teleconference. “He has been fantastic. I kind of feel like the unsung hero for Wisconsin is Traevon Jackson.
“He has hit a ton of big shots in his career. He was huge against Arizona. Not only offensively, but his toughness and his leadership.”
UW (30-7) will need Jackson to play well when it faces Kentucky (28-10) in the Final Four at 7:49 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Jackson, a 6-foot-2 junior who has started the last 66 games, is averaging 12.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game in four NCAA Tournament games.
Despite hitting just 4 of 14 field-goal attempts in UW's 64-63 overtime victory over Arizona, Jackson is shooting 36.4% from three-point range (4 of 11) and 44.1% overall (15 of 34) in the tournament.
In addition, he leads UW in free throws made and attempted (17 of 19, 89.5%).
“What jumps out when you're watching live instead of on TV is the confidence that Traevon plays with,” said Kerr, who has seen UW live four times this season. “That Arizona game was a perfect example.
“Arizona guarded like crazy and obviously Kaminsky went nuts, but there were numerous possessions where there was just nothing going.
“And Traevon was the guy they'd always look to at the end of the shot clock and he is fearless.”
One such play came late in the overtime with UW holding a 62-61 lead.
Kaminsky set a screen for Jackson on the left wing. The Wildcats switched, which left 6-9 forward Aaron Gordon on Jackson and 6-3 Nick Johnson on Kaminsky.
With the shot clock ticking below 10 seconds, Jackson was able to drive to his right past Gordon and into the lane. He missed the contested shot but Kaminsky got inside position on Johnson and scored on a tip with 1 minute 11 seconds left.
“I just think there is a toughness and a will about him that gives his whole team confidence,” Kerr said. “While Kaminsky is their best player, Traevon is the guy who gives them that edge and that belief and he shows it with his play throughout the game with how solid he is but also with how willing he is to take the big shots.
“I think that is a huge component for their team.”
The son of Jim Jackson, a two-time All-American at Ohio State who went on to play for 12 different NBA teams, Traevon Jackson's role was uncertain in the minds of UW's staff when he came to Madison in 2011 from Westerville (Ohio) South High School.
“I thought Trae was a good fit just because of personality and leadership ability,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “I didn't know he was going to be a point guard. Probably would have said no, he's not going to play.”
Jackson's emergence at point guard has been chronicled thoroughly.
George Marshall started the first six games last season but was inconsistent and coach Bo Ryan turned to Jackson in Game 7. Jackson held the job for the last 29 games and hasn't let go since.
Although he showed his toughness with several game-winning or game-tying shots last season, his turnover total of 73 was too close to his assist total of 99 last season. This season, Jackson enters the Final Four with 148 assists and 80 turnovers in 37 games.
Gard was asked if Jackson possessed a stubborn streak.
“Oh, he is stubborn, but I think it has been a good stubborn at times,” Gard said. “Because you have to be very tough-minded to play that position for Bo. He is hard on his point guards. It is a very important position for him in our program.
“I think that strong-mindedness for Trae has helped him through, especially last year when he had some adversity and was trying to figure everything out and had some rough days.
“I thought if he got through that and was in one piece when it was all said and done and still headed in the right direction, he was really going to reap the benefits of it down the road. I think we're seeing that now.”
Ryan, a point guard during his playing days, sees the same type of player Kerr sees.
“A very strong-willed young man,” Ryan said. “He feels he's got it, OK?
“That means a player in baseball, wants that last ball hit to him so he can throw the guy out, that guy that wants the last shot. There are some people who talk about it and there's some people that can do it and get it done.
“His confidence level and his ability to believe that he's got everything under control, even though none of us ever do totally have that … he at least believes that.
“And therefore his confidence level has been able to get some things done for us in tight situations. That's where he's grown the most.”