Minute man: Jackson assumes fresh role in senior year as Syracuse’s tireless early-season MVP

first_img Comments For three long years, Rick Jackson says Jim Boeheim’s words have echoed in his thoughts. ‘Be in shape to play 40 minutes.’ Forty minutes: An entire game of the power forward Jackson lumbering up and down the Carrier Dome court. Talk of playing 40 minutes would have been blasphemy when watching the 240-pound Jackson trudge through 26.3 minutes per game as a junior last year. Jackson simply couldn’t do it. He couldn’t run for more than 35 minutes in a single game last year, never mind 40. He wasn’t in shape. ‘Me losing that weight was key,’ Jackson said after Syracuse’s 78-58 win over Cornell Tuesday.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text Forty minutes in 2010, though — if needed, it’s expected. Through No. 8 SU’s first seven games of the season, Jackson has played a full 40 minutes twice. Thanks to shedding 25 pounds, Jackson has pulled a 180-degree turn with regards to how many minutes he can provide. He never played a full 40 minutes prior to this season. Talk of him playing a whole game has gone from profane to predicted. He is averaging 34.6 minutes per game, and as a result, his production has improved. He is the undeniable MVP of the Orange through a rocky start to the season. Jackson has been the sole bright spot in Boeheim’s eyes. Jackson will have to continue to play close to 40 minutes Saturday, as North Carolina State (4-2) comes to the Dome (5:15 p.m., ESPN2). Despite Jackson’s affinity to play entire games, Boeheim’s 2010 team has grown notorious for not putting together a full 40 minutes. He and SU’s players have let it be known at various points. ‘We have a lot of work to do,’ Boeheim said after the Cornell game. ‘We can’t seem to get it together for 40 minutes.’ Tuesday, it was a case of a poor second half for the Orange. Cornell outscored SU 41-40. In the first four games of the season, the problem was the first half. SU’s initial problem was a lack of an animalistic mindset from the outset. In its last game, it failed to finish the game the way the team started — like animals muzzling the Big Red with its 2-3 zone, running Cornell out of the Dome. Jackson, however, has been the animal. He’ll say as much. There is no other way for him to play the game now. ‘Right now,’ he said Tuesday, ‘down on the defensive end is being an animal around the basket.’ The animal is the MVP, the most important player on the floor for Boeheim. He’s needed for the entire game. Sometimes, even, an entire tournament. Or close to it, as Jackson garnered Legends Classic MVP honors this past weekend. He played 78 of 80 minutes at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., carrying SU to wins that should have been much easier against Michigan and Georgia Tech. Much like Jonny Flynn in the 2008-09 season — a season that was highlighted by Flynn’s 181-minute instant-classic performance at Madison Square Garden — Jackson is needed for every vital minute for the Orange. The numbers say that. And they are numbers that have come not in a frenetic Big East tournament run. Rather, against seven menial opponents. In SU’s last five games, Jackson has played 180 of 200 minutes. There is where that 180-degree turnaround surfaces. Almost literally. Like Flynn then, Syracuse can’t win without Jackson now. ‘He’s really established himself as our enforcer,’ SU guard Scoop Jardine said. ‘Every game he plays, he leaves everything out there on the floor.’ Jackson is third in the nation, averaging 13 rebounds per game. He is also second on the team in points per game with 12.7 and is first in field-goal percentage, shooting 57 percent. But of all the numbers, the number that matters is 40. For the former role player, he knows that is his role this year. Jackson, though, will still tell you he is still a role player. This year is just a case of a player inhabiting a different role. His role now is what Flynn’s formerly was. The numbers reflect that, and he isn’t surprised. Unsurprised, much like he was in Atlantic City last weekend, reckoning he would lay claim to the Legends Classic MVP award. Minutes after his head coach played him for 40 minutes against Georgia Tech, Jackson needed less than a second to answer a question regarding the MVP honor. It echoed in his thoughts for a split second. Not three years. Did he expect the MVP award? Said Jackson: ‘I’m not surprised at all.’ aolivero@syr.edu Published on December 1, 2010 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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