At Last, Sixers Give Underdog Pierre Jackson A Chance to Shine
Alex Bernal, a former Las Vegas AAU basketball coach, was thinking about Pierre Jackson's basketball career in February when he came to a realization.
"For some reason, every break he's made in his body seems like it's made him a better player," Bernal said of Jackson, his favorite former Vegas Rebels player, while the 5-10 guard was tearing up the NBA D-League with the Idaho Stampede.
"This right here -- coming to the D-League -- does it bother him a little bit that he's not in the [NBA] right now? Of course it does. But something about it is making him a better player."
The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be in Philadelphia, as the Sixers acquired him for a second-round pick during Thursday's 2014 NBA Draft.
It's a golden opportunity for a player who's been slept on his entire life -- hence the #TheySleep movement he champions on Twitter. Out of the crime-ridden streets of Las Vegas, Jackson has been overcoming doubts about his small stature since he joined Bernal's 16-and-under team at 13.
It was during a 2008 game against Vegas powerhouse Findlay Prep that coach Michael Peck realized Jackson's potential; he scored 32 points for Desert Pines in a 114-81 romp. "Quickest guy with the ball I'd ever seen," says Peck, who went on to coach Jackson in Idaho last season. "He broke down [now Celtics guard] Avery Bradley."
With the Stampede, Jackson didn't stop astounding Peck. The Pelicans, who ironically acquired him from the Sixers on Draft Day 2013, had hoped he'd spend the year playing in France. He left French team ASVEL Villeurbanne before ever playing a game after hearing news of his grandmother's breast cancer surgery. "That's my heart. I couldn't go a day without her," he said in February.
Instead Jackson posted games of 58 (an NBA D-League record), 49, 46, 44, 43, 41 and 40 points with Idaho. He averaged 29.1 on 45% shooting, then signed for more money in Turkey only to leave again after six games.
Now he'll enter his second season with an even larger chip on his shoulder. You can bet no one appreciates the chance to play in the NBA more than Jackson.
"Where do I even start? At a loss for words," he wrote on Instagram Saturday night after being introduced in Philly.
"If I were to tell any one I wanted to be a NBA player and I'm going to make it happen coming into college they prob would've brushed it to the side maybe laughed. All the way up to today! I can't even be mad anymore man I did it! Y'all don't understand how much it means to me to be able to hold this jersey up and actually wanted to be apart of something special! Again this also bigger then me and I'm doing this for my family/fans/Philly, all the smaller players out there being doubted because their size and most of importantly my city VEGAS!! Appreciate everyone for the love I will not stop working and do my best to stick and make a difference! #BRAAAAA #LEAGUER #imshortashell #tryandguardmethough #THISISHAPPENING! #702 #BIGsummer! #76ers #THEYSLEEPFollowing"