Big Ten Network analyst Jim Jackson

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Posted by on November 28, 2008 at 21:02:39:

Behind the Mike: Nostalgia trumps reality in Big Ten, Jackson says

Jim Jackson doesn't have many warm memories of the University of Wisconsin Field House. Fond ones, yes. Jackson, the former Ohio State basketball star, did make himself "at home" in the old venue at the corner of Monroe and Regent, which housed the Badgers until the construction of the Kohl Center. "It was cold as (bleep) in that old barn," Jackson said.

But it didn't prevent him from getting the hot hand in each of Ohio State's three wins at the Field House in the early '90s. Jackson, whose No. 22 jersey has since been retired by the Buckeyes, scored 26, 21 and 29 points. "He can do whatever he wants to do on the court," former UW coach Steve Yoder said after Jackson's last game in Madison, "and he doesn't need help to do it."

Last week, Jackson was at courtside at the Kohl Center before the tipoff of a nonconference game between Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Wisconsin. The 38-year-old Jackson was going over notes in his role as a color analyst for men's basketball on the Big Ten Network. He's also beginning his second year as a studio host for BTN.

"This is beautiful," he said, surveying the Kohl Center. "But this is more corporate and it kind of takes the students out of the game. It doesn't compare with the true college atmosphere of the old Field House here. Or, St. John Arena in Columbus (Ohio). Or, the really old barn in Minneapolis (Williams Arena, where the Gophers still play basketball). Those were real basketball venues."

The game that is being played in these new buildings isn't the same either, Jackson insisted.

"From one standpoint, the guys are probably more athletic," he said. "But they rely on their athleticism too much. From a skill standpoint, the fundamentals that we were taught back then were a lot different. That's why some of your most successful programs today are the ones that are the most fundamentally sound, year in and year out."

As such, Jackson appreciates Bo Ryan's attention to detail and "old-school" mind-set as the coach of the Badgers. "He gets smart, high-IQ guys who play extremely hard, understand the game and run his system," he said. "That's why he's been successful. Alando Tucker was a great college player, but he wasn't the type of player who could carry the load at the next level (NBA)."

Jackson conceded that the Big Ten, as a whole, hasn't attracted enough "marquee" athletes to remain competitive with some of the more high-profile leagues. Jackson suggested the need for a talent upgrade from top to bottom. "As the second-tier teams begin to get better," he said, listing Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State, "the perception of the league will be better nationwide.

"I do think the conference is making a comeback," he added. "But I also think teams in the Big Ten have to make a shift in recruiting the kind of guys they recruit. When you play on the national stage against the top conferences, the Big Ten is outmatched athletically a lot of times and that hurts the conference in (NCAA) tournament play."

Jackson was scheduled to be paired with play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson on this week's Big Ten Network telecast of the Bowling Green-Ohio State game from Columbus. Johnson, who's known for his high-energy delivery, is the latest addition to BTN's stable of on-air talent.

Johnson, like Jackson, has Big Ten roots. He was born and raised in Detroit, Mich. (Jackson is from Toledo, Ohio.) Johnson, like Jackson, also established his "game" in the NBA as the radio voice of the New York Knicks. At that, the Knicks were one of the pro franchises that didn't employ Jackson, who suited up for 12 teams during his 14 seasons as an NBA player.

Has he ever thought about how his career might have played out if he had been able to stay with one team for an extended period of time? "Oh, yeah, I think about it a lot -- but in God's mind, it wasn't meant to be like that," said Jackson, a two-time Big Ten MVP. "From a basketball standpoint, I probably didn't accomplish what I wanted to."

Yet, there were some benefits to keeping his bags packed. "It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people and travel and expand my horizons moreso than if I would have stayed with just one team," he said. "From a personal and business standpoint, it was a blessing in disguise."

Jackson played for the Mavericks, Nets, 76ers, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Hawks, Cavaliers, Heat, Kings, Rockets, Suns and Lakers. Jackson's only regret was not staying healthy in Dallas, where an ankle injury cut short a most promising 1994-95 season when he was among the league leaders in scoring.

"The NBA game has changed," Jackson said, "to the extent that the business has taken away from the overall love of the game. As the older generation moved on, the real young players have taken over without the experience and knowledge of how to play the game and that has hurt the overall performance of the league. As the stars mature, the league can get back to where it used to be."

In college hoops, he noted, the better teams are able to keep their players together for multiple seasons. And that has given rise to some mid-major programs and old-school practitioners like Bo Ryan. "He probably gets more out of his talent than anyone in the country," Jackson said.

(Mike Lucas, 77 Square)

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