Had Reggie Jackson remained at Boston College for his senior year, the Eagles likely would have finished better than their 9-22 record last season. But Jackson decided to take a chance on a professional career, and the move paid off as he reached the NBA Finals as a reserve guard with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Jackson knew he would be taking a chance when he declared himself eligible for the draft, partly because a work stoppage was looming. His first professional season did not go smoothly, and Jackson is focused on making up for lost time in preparing for next season.
“It was a roller coaster ride, not knowing what was going to happen during the season,” Jackson said. “I got hurt, there was the lockout, a shortened training camp, so I wasn’t able to go through a full preseason. I was behind the eight-ball right away.
“We had a bright future and a lot of people picked us to win. Then Eric Maynor goes down and he’s one of the best point guards in the league.”
On Jan. 7, Maynor sustained a season-ending knee injury, opening an opportunity for Jackson.
The next night, Jackson produced 11 points and four assists in a 23-minute stint in a victory over San Antonio. Jackson continued getting minutes and the Thunder continued winning.
But Jackson’s role diminished following the arrival of Derek Fisher in March, and he did not make an appearance in the playoffs. He played in 45 regular-season games, averaging 3.1 points and 1.6 assists in 11.1 minutes per game.
“I’m taking it all in and learning,” Jackson said. “And I use it as motivation.”
Asked about being prepared for the adjustment to the professional game, Jackson replied, “Hard to tell. The biggest thing is mental, I believe. I was probably as ready mentally as I could be to take on everything — stepping into Eric’s shoes and taking criticism and just being able to bounce back.
“It helped, hopefully, and it will help me throughout next season. I’ve definitely just been taking care of my body and, since I’m getting older, my muscles are catching up with each other, and I’m stronger all over. I’ve gained weight, probably 10 pounds from my junior season at BC to my rookie season.”
Jackson, 22, was the youngest player on a young team. But he said he fit in well with stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“We’re actually in the same age bracket,” Jackson said. “I’m learning from them, but it’s been fun spending time together and having the same interests.”
One of those interests is returning to the Finals.
“Only time will tell,” Jackson said. “We are all training with our sights on winning the championship. Most teams don’t aim lower than that, and that’s what we are shooting for. We approach it the same way day to day and we want to bring back a title to Oklahoma City.
“It’s not Boston, but I enjoyed being there. We have the craziest fans, you’d think we’re like a college team the way they show up and support us. We lost and 10,000 people showed up at the airport when we came back. It’s tight-knit, the whole state. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Jackson has the size (6 feet 3 inches) to play shooting guard and the court vision and passing ability for the point but he shot only 32.1 percent from the field for the Thunder.
Jackson has been consulting with BC coach Steve Donahue about his shooting form, and met with former BC coach Al Skinner during the Las Vegas Summer League.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get on the court and help the team,” Jackson said. “You have to be a leader and understand how to handle tough situations. It’s a different game as you go up every level, and the ones that are confident are the ones that stay around.
“The biggest thing last year for me was I was questioning myself about certain things. You have to trust in your game. Once I got on the court I was thinking about everything instead of just playing. I’m getting back to just playing ball and having belief in my abilities.”
Might another college season have helped Jackson prepare?
“I enjoyed college,” he said. “I think whatever I’ve been through, everything you go through in life, the ups and downs and stuff, I wouldn’t change it. It all helped me grow as a person.”
Garnett’s bid kicked aside
Kevin Garnett has a strong rooting interest in soccer, Chelsea and AC Milan his preferred clubs. There are several US-based owners of major European clubs, and Garnett last year decided to join them by agreeing to chip in to AS Roma. About the same time, LeBron James joined Fenway Sports Group, which controls Liverpool FC.
When the teams met last month in an exhibition at Fenway Park (Roma beat Liverpool, 2-1) it was revealed Garnett had been excluded from financial involvement with Roma. The NBA blocked the move because AS Roma’s principal investor is Celtics part-owner James Pallotta.
“If you enter into a business agreement with the owner of a team that doesn’t involve playing service, there are potential problems,” a league source said. “Maybe not in this case. But there is a chance of, say, making a contract a lot larger.”
James is allowed to invest in Liverpool because Fenway Sports Group has no connection with the NBA.
“With LeBron, there is no tie-in whatsoever, so it’s a different deal,” the source said. “It’s like having a business relationship with Nike. We make it simple — you can’t have a business deal with your team, or any other team, because there is the possibility of an underhanded deal there. It’s pretty clear-cut.”
There was hope for an exception to be made because Garnett’s investment would have been drawn from a blind trust administered by his attorney. But the NBA said no dice.
Draft is no breeze
This might be considered stating the obvious, but the NBA draft is unlikely to provide long-term starting players, outside of the highest picks. The Celtics have been resourceful — 16 of 33 selections from 1997-2011 were on NBA rosters last season — but recent drafts illustrate the difficulty of finding productive players drafting low.
Most of the Celtics’ recent picks have either failed to make the grade, become bit players, or been used as pawns in making deals.
Glen Davis and Rajon Rondo have proven to be exceptions, and Avery Bradley could be also, pending recovery from shoulder surgery.
Last year’s Celtic draft choices, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, were packaged with veterans Sasha Pavlovic and Sean Williams to acquire Courtney Lee last month.
Johnson had been struggling to establish himself in summer leagues, but Moore showed potential as a backup point guard. The Celtics, however, needed a dependable veteran, so anyone outside the top rotation became expendable.
The Celtics should be patient with this year’s first-rounders, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, based on size alone. Sullinger, Melo, and second-rounder Kris Joseph also will have the benefit of summer league and a full training camp, plus the possibility of D-League experience. Johnson and Moore missed out on that.
From 2008-11, the Celtics’ drafts yielded only one possible starter — Bradley. Long gone are Semih Erden (Anadolu Efes in Turkey), J.R. Giddens (PAOK Thessaloniki in Greece), Luke Harangody (Cleveland), Lester Hudson, Johnson (Houston), Moore, and Bill Walker.
Hudson was among the longest of long shots when he was taken with the 58th overall pick in 2009, but he might have a chance for a journeyman career. Hudson impressed during 10-day contracts last season with the Cavaliers, averaging 12.7 points and 24 minutes in 13 games. Hudson has played for three teams since being waived by the Celtics during the 2009-10 season, including two stints with Memphis.
Moore stands a good chance of catching on also, according to his agent, Mark Bartelstein.
“There is a lot of interest, and hopefully we’ll get something soon,” said Bartelstein. “A lot of teams are calling from Europe but his focus is on the NBA.’’
Former Boston University assistant Steve Clifford was among the finalists interviewed for the Trail Blazers’ head coaching position before the list was narrowed to interim coach Kaleb Canales and Mavericks assistant Terry Stotts. Clifford worked under Stan Van Gundy with Orlando from 2007 through last season.
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.