Junior guard C.J. Jackson started nine games last season, his first as an Ohio State Buckeye.
This season, he will be counted on to be the team’s only true point guard.
“The point guard — floor general — just kind of keeps the team together,” Jackson said at Ohio State men’s basketball media day. “That’s kind of what I do right now.”
Jackson’s role and importance increased with the departure of JaQuan Lyle, the third-leading scorer during the 2016-2017 season who quit the team in April and transferred to New Mexico.
Jackson will have help from redshirt senior shooting guard Kam Williams, a returning starter with no in-game experience at point guard. Williams said he and redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop and senior forward Jae’Sean Tate have been honing their skills to adapt to Ohio State’s lack of depth at point guard.
“We all have [worked on ball handling] cause we know C.J. is our only true, true point guard,” Williams said. “So we’ve gathered in the summer to prepare if we’re ever in that situation — so I think all of us will step up and take his place if needed.”
Bates-Diop and Tate said they have also been working on ball handling, but need to practice playing point guard in practice as well to grow more comfortable at the position. Bates-Diop said he sees Williams growing more comfortable at the position with more experience running the offense at practice, which Jackson did throughout last season.
Jackson’s numbers overall at the end of the 2016-17 season were not that of a future starter. He averaged less than six points per game and shooting below 40 percent both from the field and beyond the arc. He improved late in the season, however, and helped give his numbers a boost over the last seven games, averaging 10.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game over the stretch.
The Eastern Florida Community College transfer found a rhythm with his jump shot as he shot 51.9 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from behind the 3-point line, making 14-of-26 3-point makes in his final seven games last season.
While ball handling and shooting represent important skills to succeed at point guard, there is more to running an offense and leading a team. Jackson has a quiet demeanor, but sophomore forward/center Micah Potter said he has no concerns about the point guard’s ability to lead.
“It’s kind of like a Mike Conley type thing — he’s not a crazy outspoken guy either — but just his ability to keep himself under control and just kind of be a quiet leader like he’ll say things here and there,” Potter said. “It will never be boisterous or anything like that, but just his ability to keep himself under control and lead in that way is huge as a point guard.”
Potter might be onto something with his reference to former Conley, who was recently inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame. The former Buckeye led Ohio State to the 2007 national title game and starts at point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies. Conley told reporters at halftime of the Ohio State-Maryland football game that Jackson must be able to lead the team on and off the court.
“He’s got to be able to command the ball and command the team’s respect, and go out there and handle it like a point guard is supposed to,” Conley said.
Conley added he believes that the junior point guard has what it takes.
“I have confidence in him — I’m excited for him,” Conley said. “I think he’s been working for it, so I’m looking forward to it.”
To be able to lead, a point guard has to trust himself. With such significant roster turnover, Jackson has an opportunity to break out as a key contributor for the Buckeyes. Tate said he has the utmost confidence Jackson will take advantage.
“At the point guard position (Jackson’s) going to be the guy. And for a university this big and what stage we’re on — that’s big, that’s huge,” Tate said. “And he’s approaching the situation great and he’s been working hard. He seems more confident than he has in the past and I’m very excited to see what he does this year leading us on the floor.”