By Paul M. Banks
At Big Ten Media Day, Ohio State alum Jim Jackson was just like the rest of us journalists, he participated in the college hoops version of speed dating that is Media Day, as he went from table to table interviewing players and coaches. At the same time, the NBA veteran of 14 seasons, 1992 #4 overall draft pick and current Big Ten Network analyst was utterly NOT like the rest of us journalists, as reporters and bloggers gathered around Jackson to ask him his thoughts on the 2009-10 season, a year in which most national pundits deem the Big Ten the strongest or second strongest in the country. I was one of those writers, and this is what JJ, the only player ever to win the Big 10 conference player of the year award twice, told me during our exclusive chat.
Obviously, Jackson had a lot to say about the Big Ten’s junior class, finding some natural comparisons between this class and the state of the league at the beginning of the last decade.
“I take a look back at the early 90s, at some of the classes that came to Indiana, even our class at Ohio State, Michigan State had a great class at the time. I think it kind of recycles a little bit, you go through those periods where it’s a down a little bit then it builds back up. And it’s a reflection of the coaches in this league, the resumes and pedigrees they have. Now the talent is going to catch back up with the coaches.
You got Manny, Talor, Evan, Kalin, guys that I think are going to take it up another level this year. Evan had his first year of being the go-to-guy. Now that he has that under his belt, he’ll be more comfortable in that role. So how much better will he be? Kalin didn’t have the expectation of being Big Ten player of the year but he got it, so now he has that confidence.”
Jackson continued: “I love Talor’s game. His quickness separates him because he can get from point A. to point B. at the drop of a dime, but he can shoot the basketball- stick that open jump shot. And still finish at the rim, it’s a combination that’s a tough assignment for any point guard to have. Talor may not be the most vocal leader, but this year he’ll be more vocal, and also more of a lead-by- example guy with his play.”
And then there’s Purdue’s famed junior class. These days so many players leave early for the NBA draft, so it’s exceedingly difficult for one highly heralded class to stay together for multiple years, but Purdue is one place where they’ve been able to retain their nucleus.
“In Purdue’s instance, as talented as those guys are, I don’t think any of them were ready to take the next step which is a good thing for the University. Because now you have a core group of guys coming into their junior year that are very experienced in playing together. It’s a catch-22 when you look at it that way. The talent is there, but maybe not at that level. JaJuan (Johnson) established himself last year, as a go-to player. He really worked on his inside game, his post moves. You look at what Robbie (Hummel) brings to the table, a little bit of everything; rebounds, shoots, he’s a leader. Coming off the injury, he had a great summer with the USA team. He’s probably their best all around player,” said Jackson, co-holder of the NBA record for most teams played for (12).
The 2009-10 Big Ten will of course be known for it’s junior class. However, year-in, year-out, the conversation starts and ends with the collective group of league coaches.
“Name a bad coach in this league. You can’t do it. Carmody is great at what he does offensively. Ed DeChellis may not have the name recognition, but he can do it. Crean has recognition. Thad Matta has established himself. Beilien got it done at West Virginia. Of course, Izzo, Bo Ryan and now Matt Painter is establishing himself.
Tubby is a kind of coach that is going to go get the players he wants, recruit the players that are smart, and get up and down the court, understand the game, shoot the ball and play aggressive defense. And it’s great for Minnesota, because that arena is already tough to play in. Now you put a product on the floor that makes it an even tougher place to play again,” he said.
So where does the Big Ten Network analyst put the conference nationally? (Not that he’s biased or anything, of course not, no bias from this BTN analyst here)
“Top to bottom, it’s got to be one or two, this league could go nine teams deep, and that’s good and bad for the NCAAs. They’re going to beat up on each other. But at the same time they’ll get quality wins. And look at the Big East last year, you had 16 teams, and they took eight to the tournament, four in the Sweet 16, two in the Final Four, and it could be very similar here in the Big Ten, because you have quality teams and depth,” Jackson said.
I concur 100%. Visit this site tomorrow for part two of this interview, and to see JJ’s picks for this season.