Jackson's hoops career fueled by doubters

July 19, 2013

In recent years, New Orleans has frequently acquired players from the blueblood programs of the NCAA. For instance, the franchise’s 2012 draft yielded two players who won a national title at storied Kentucky, as well as one from perennial power Duke. New Orleans’ current roster also has members who hail from UCLA, Indiana and Kansas.

Then there’s Pelicans rookie Pierre Jackson, who was seen walking around Las Vegas this week wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “SOUTHERN IDAHO BASKETBALL” across the chest.

Starting with his 5-foot-10 stature, Jackson doesn’t have much in common with the average NBA player. A Las Vegas native, he was under-recruited in high school, before excelling for two years of junior-college ball at Southern Idaho in the city of Twin Falls (population 45,000). The dynamic point guard went on to star at Baylor, helping lead the Bears to the 2012 Elite Eight and 2013 NIT championship.

Given his size, prolific scoring (19.8 points per game last season) and long-range accuracy (40.8 percent on three-pointers), Jackson is frequently likened to 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson. It’s a comparison Jackson relishes, to the point where he even references Robinson’s well-known “heart over height” quote during interviews.

“I like Nate Robinson’s energy, emotion and scoring,” Jackson said. “Size shouldn’t matter at all. Nate showed that in the playoffs. Nobody could guard him. Heart matters more than height. If a player’s good, he’s good. Players like Nate, (Sacramento’s 5-9) Isaiah Thomas and (Orlando’s 6-0) Jameer Nelson have proven a lot of people wrong.”

Jackson smiles, before adding, “I want to continue that short-guy legacy.”

It was Jackson’s team success that initially made him intriguing to Division I programs. As a sophomore at Southern Idaho, he spearheaded the Golden Eagles to the 2010-11 national juco championship. He then made an instant splash as a Baylor junior by averaging 13.8 points on the Bears’ 2011-12 Elite Eight team. The Bears were eliminated by Anthony Davis-led Kentucky, just one win from a Final Four berth. Still, it took a superb senior season for Jackson’s name to show up on every list of likely 2013 NBA draftees. He was officially picked 42nd overall by Philadelphia on June 27, but was included in the trade that also brought Jrue Holiday to New Orleans. That trade was finalized Friday.

Greeted by skepticism at virtually every level of his basketball career, the 21-year-old hopes to join the growing group of recent second-round picks who’ve become successful pros. That list includes Thomas, who was the NBA’s version of “Mr. Irrelevant” in 2011 as the draft’s 60th and final selection.

“People were saying I was too small to go to the NBA, this and that, but my name got called on (draft night),” said Jackson, with satisfaction in his voice. “I’m just going to continue to prove people wrong. That’s going to be my mind-set and attitude throughout my whole life.”