Qwan Jackson’s way of dreaming big is to think small.
Darrell Riley. Trae Jefferson. Aquille Carr.
None of those point guards stands taller than 5-foot-8, but each is a major problem for opponents on the basketball court. Riley had one of the state’s most productive seasons three years ago at Milwaukee North and is now a junior at Detroit. Jefferson, another Milwaukee native, is an internet sensation who led Texas Southern to the NCAA Tournament last year. Carr, who is from Baltimore, skipped college and is playing professionally.
For a 5-5 junior trying to carve himself a place in a tall man’s game, they’re sources of inspiration.
“I’m proving them wrong,” Jackson said of his doubters. “A lot of people think (I can’t play) because I’m little, but they should know now.”
Jackson might be the best player you’ve never seen.
Playing for Milwaukee Lifelong Learning, a Division 3 school located just west of downtown that is in its second year of existence, Jackson hasn’t had the chance to play in any of the area’s top showcases or tournaments. Even in the City Conference, the Wizards play in the Blue Division, the half of the league filled with mostly newer or developing programs.
In a game driven by numbers as much as basketball, however, you can’t ignore Jackson’s stats. He had a 69-point game in December against Kenosha Reuther. He went for 70 in victory over Milwaukee Juneau last Wednesday.
Based on statistics compiled by MaxPreps.com, which had him at 45.6 for 13 games (leaving one game uncounted), Jackson had the highest average points per game in the nation.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I’ve got to keep it there.”
System produces big-time scorers
Buy PhotoQwan Jackson benefits from the pace employed by Lifelong Learning coach Billy Harris. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
We’ve seen this before. Jackson plays for Billy Harris, who prior to Lifelong Learning, coached at Milwaukee North where he employed the same up-tempo system which spreads the floor, frees its shooters with pick-and-roll plays and works to create as many transition opportunities as possible. When its clicking, Harris’ teams get up many more shots than their opponents.
A number of Harris’ players have lead the state in scoring. The one he says Jackson is most like is Riley, who was so tough to defend that he averaged 14 free throws per game and finished the year with 939 points, the sixth-best total in state history.
“Point guard is a tough position and he is exceptional at it,” Harris said of Jackson. “Out of the point guards I’ve had I’d say he is the best dribbler of all of them. He is a prototypical point guard, sort of like Kyrie Irving. You can run pick-and-roll motion to death. … He can split it. He can go in and out on it. He can get the three of it. He can get the layup. He can get the mid-range.”
Jackson has been on a historic pace so far. Assuming he plays 23 games, a complete regular season slate plus one tournament game, at his current average he would score 1,025 points, which, according to records kept by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association, would mark only the fourth time a player has reached 1,000 points in one season in boys basketball.
His 70-point effort last week tied for the fourth largest single-game total in state history, just six points off the record set by Menasha St. Mary’s Ron Dibelius in 1956.
Those 70 points came on a night Jackson was hitting from long range and getting to the line. The 8 three-pointers he sank in the 124-79 victory over Milwaukee Juneau were a season high. His 22 free throw attempts were his third-highest total of the season, and the 77 percent free throw shooter connected at an even better than usual rate, making 18.
“To tell the truth, it doesn’t even feel like I’m having 70,” Jackson said. “I just play. I don’t even want them to tell me what I have until the end of the game.”
The Wizards will be tested the rest of the way
Lifelong Learning is 8-6. The final eight games of the regular season figure to be tougher than the first 14, though.
Over the course of the season, the team has lost a number of players for various reasons, a list that, according to Harris, includes the team’s second-leading scorer Johnny Wallace.
Tuesday was the first time they played without Wallace, and the Wizards lost, 69-50, to Milwaukee Reagan. The loss was the team’s fifth in six games and left it 1-3 in the City Blue.
Jackson has taken a no-excuses mentality.
Opportunity is going to knock for players who weren’t getting the call earlier in the season. There will also be the chance for Jackson to show another side of his game as he ushers this very inexperienced group along.
“I want people to understand that just because he’s 5-5 and he scores a lot of points that there is more to his game,” Harris said. “I want them to understand that he doesn’t need to score 52 points to make their team better. … I want coaches to know that he is going to do whatever it takes to get that scholarship and maintain it.”