The Daily Ardmoreite
  • Former Ardmore star finds second chance, D-I dream at prep school

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  • The player in the video is unmistakeable. He's not wearing Ardmore red, but Nino Jackson stands out anywhere.
    Jackson takes that familiar path to the rim, elevates and flushes a one-handed slam over two players in the National Association of Christian Athletes Dunk Contest.
    Jackson wins.
    A year ago, Jackson's rise to one of the nation's elite basketball players was nearly derailed. As quickly as the spindly combo guard shot up the national recruting rankings, he was off the radar after missing his entire senior season with Ardmore.
    Last week, Jackson came full circle, signing with Division I Loyola Marymount University.
    Nino made it.
    "It's right by the Staples Center. It's California. It's L.A.," Jackson said of LMU. "I came to the decision that (April 22) morning. I had a talk with my mom, my dad, my cousins.
    "I could have went a lot of places, but I've got two teammates going there. It's been a blessing."
    Jackson tranferred to Ardmore as a sophomore from Northwest Classen and had an immediate impact. After winning All-Ardmoreite Player of the Year honors in 2010, he again helped Ardmore to a successful regular season as a junior, but was hit with trouble when the postseason came.
    Jackson didn't meet requirements for a class and had to sit out the area playoffs. Despite missing Jackson, Ardmore advanced to the state tournament, losing controversially in the first round to Tulsa Edison with Jackson on the sidelines.
    Little did Jackson, or the rest of the state, realize that he'd never play for Ardmore again. His entire senior season was wiped out by situations off the court, ranging from school-time missed to the birth of his daughter in May 2011.
    Looking back, Jackson admitted he made some mistakes, but also stood by his decision that he had to make necessary sacrifices. Splitting his time in between family in Oklahoma City and Ardmore, Jackson couldn't carve out the time for school and basketball.
    "I had to make a sacrifice, stop going to school for a minute, take my time and take care of my daughter," Jackson said. "It was real hard. I couldn't even ... I was so mad at myself.
    "I let my team down, I let coach Wilson down. I couldn't even go to the games, I listened to it on the radio."
    Ardmore coach Mark Wilson knew at the time that Jackson was struggling with a lot of outside influences, some of them under his control, and some not.
    "I think there were just factors here that prevented him from getting things lined up," Wilson said. "We all hated it because when he was in the gym and playing, he was a great kid to be around and to coach.
    Page 2 of 3 - "We don't blame it on anybody ... it was just the whole set of circumstances."
    The turnaround started with a year in Kingdom Christian Academy's (Columbus, Ga.) post graduate program, which helped Jackson get his college basketball dream, and his education, back on track. Jackson said he was reached out to via Facebook by Kingdom Christian Athletic Director and basketball coach Marshall McGill.
    At the time, Jackson had no idea that post graduate school was even an option.
    "I was back in forth in the city and Ardmore taking care of my daughter," he said. "My plan was just to go to JUCO and start from there. I had never really heard about prep school."
    Jackson entered the program in 2012 and is projected to graduate in May. He said the faith-based curriculum of Kingdom Prep, as well as the consistent motivation of Ardmore native and Cincinnti Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham, played a massive role in keeping him focused on his goal.
    "It seems like ever since I came to this christian school and put God in my life, he keeps pushing my life farther and farther," Jackson said. "I had to look at my family and my daughter, otherwise I'd have to do it the harder way in the streets. I had to stay in school and get back on track."
    The apex of Jackson's time at Kingdom Prep came this spring, when he guided the Lions to the NACA Division III national championship. Kingdom's run to the title was accompanied by highlight reels surfacing on YouTube and Twitter of the bouncy Jackson throwing down in-game 360 dunks and flashing that same (albeit improved) appealing game he displayed for Ardmore.
    His strong play for Kingdom parlayed into interest from schools such as Kansas State, Georgia, Oregon, Oklahoma State, USC, Georgia Tech, West Virginia and Auburn among others.
    Jackson, now 20 and an inch taller at 6-foot-3, was still a hot commodity. The big conference schools didn't forget about him or his talents. His resurgence at Kingdom and his reputation for explosive athleticism on the AAU circuit never left the minds of those power conference coaches.
    But LMU in Los Angeles won out, as Jackson signed with the Division I West Coast Conference school. LMU is famous for its high-powered offense of the late 1980s and early 90s, which scored an NCAA-record 122.4 points per game in '89-90 and featured All-Americans Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers. Jackson is also familiar with the California scene, having played AAU ball for the Compton Magic in 2011.
    Wilson texted Jackson last week to congratulate him.
    "I told him I sure was happy for him," Wilson said. "I knew that he could have success at that level if he was given the right opportunity, getting out there to a place where he could continue his studies was the right thing for him.
    Page 3 of 3 - "Some of the places these kids go to are a meat market kinds of deal, but that place was right for him at the time."
    It's been a long road for Jackson, one that's required him to go places he'd never imagined. But it's also matured him.
    He speaks as someone with his priorities in order. He promises to call back after his bible study. He does. He replies with "yes sir," and "no sir."
    More than once, Jackson says he's blessed. He's gained perspective, something he'll take with him to the West Coast in June.
    "I kinda still to this day regret it," Jackson said of his final years at Ardmore. "I made it harder on myself. I wasn't taking school seriously, but since I came to Kingdom Prep, I became a real student athlete.
    "It matured me a whole lot."
    Follow Horne on Twitter: @ekhorneARD
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