Kansas’ Jackson deals with multiple hardships

By Joe Juliano

The Philadelphia Inquirer

On his bio page in the Kansas basketball media guide, Darnell Jackson said his biggest accomplishment was "becoming a senior."

The answer is not simplistic or trite when one considers all the pain and heartache Jackson has had to endure in his 22 years:

When Jackson was an eighth grader, his father, James Howard, was shot to death by the Oklahoma City police after he attacked a jogger.


A close friend was killed by gang members while stopped at a traffic light shortly after Jackson had left for Kansas.

Jackson’s grandmother and best friend, Evon Jackson, died in May 2005 from injuries suffered in an automobile accident. Jackson’s mother, Shawn, was critically injured in the crash, caused by a drunk driver, and still has trouble walking.

One of Jackson’s uncles was beaten to death with a hammer.

The tribulations should have been more than one young man could bear. At one point, it was. In January 2007, Jackson skipped practice, left campus, returned to his home in Midwest City, Okla., and told his mother he was quitting school.

His mother talked with him. Kansas coach Bill Self flew to Oklahoma City to meet with him. They convinced Jackson that he should return to school. Besides, as his mother reminded Jackson, he should think of how proud his grandmother had been of him.

"It was the mind-set that I had at the time, that everything that’s going on with me, I just wanted to be home and be with my family," Jackson said. "But just having my teammates and my coaches stay on me and talk to me and tell me what I need to do ... they were helping me with everything. It just hit me — (Kansas basketball) is my family and my home."

The likable 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward is one of the driving forces behind the Jayhawks’ rise to the Final Four. He leads the team in rebounds with 6.7 per game and field-goal accuracy at 61.9 percent, and is averaging 11.2 points.

Jackson hated basketball when he was younger and spent much of his time playing football. However, after he and friends were arrested for throwing rocks through school windows, the eighth grader encountered someone who would change his life.


Ordered to perform 60 hours of community service at the local Boys and Girls Club, Jackson met Corey Colbert, a counselor who would become his mentor.

"He made me play basketball, and I guess I just caught on to the game so fast, I started loving it," he said. "He was there every day. He’d take me to the gym, and would stay until the gym closed and take me home. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I’d be here today."

Jackson contributed off the bench in his first three seasons at Kansas, but his attention often was diverted by what was going on at home.

The most devastating event was the death of his grandmother, who would ease his mind when he was a younger child and had nightmares about dying. His mother’s leg was crushed in the accident and, after 10 operations, she faces the prospect of more.

Despite her hardship, Shawn Jackson cares for Jackson’s two younger siblings and still finds time to attend the games. Jackson said he got his strength from her, "just seeing her smile."

"She’s shown a lot of strength that I didn’t know she had," he said. "Sometimes, I think she’s overdoing it. But she’s doing it for me and my younger brother and sister at home. I can’t argue with that. She wants to be here to watch me play. You never know when my last game could be."

During the games, Shawn Jackson’s voice can be heard above the crowd.

"She’s doing it for everybody — the coaches and my teammates," he said. "I’ll hear her when guys check in. It puts a smile on my face."


Jackson’s smile is an easy one. It used to be an expression that masked the hurt ravaging his body and mind. But he has come through the tragedies with wisdom and a good heart.

He might have a shot at the NBA. Jim Clibanoff, a draft analyst who writes for The Inquirer, has said Jackson possesses the "competitiveness, motor and willingness to get his hands dirty," projecting him as a high second-round pick.

Even so, Jackson wants to work with children at the Boys and Girls Clubs or with Big Brothers Big Sisters and help them the same way older people helped him.

"I wouldn’t say I would be a role model," he said. "I just hope I could be somebody they can call and talk to anytime. If they leave a message, I’ll make sure to call them back and see what’s on their mind or if they need to get something off their chest."

That goes with the entry on the bio page in which Jackson says that after college, his goal is "enjoying life."


(c) 2008, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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