I first heard about Lewis Jackson when I was listening to the Matt Painter radio show on my way home from work. Jackson had just signed his letter of intent, and Painter was free to talk about him for the first time that I had heard. Painter saw something special in Jackson, and was very enthusiastic about him. Coaches aren't really going to be negative about a recruit they just signed, but it seemed genuine to me. I heard a mention that this kid from Decatur, Illinois who stood well under six foot, could dunk. That seemed amazing to me, that a high school kid that short could dunk.
When Jackson started playing his freshman year, it wasn't quite what I expected. I guess the dunking comment stuck with me, and this kid didn't look like he was going to dunk anytime soon. I still liked what he brought to the table though: a true point who could handle the ball and was faster than anyone else on the court. And his on-ball defense was great: right up in the offense player's space, with his chest bumping into him on occasion.
Then the Wisconsin game happened. A few minutes into the game, Jackson was hit with a screen that he didn't see coming by Joe Krabbenhoft. It wasn't just a screen, though. The Badger big man clearly threw a forearm shiver into Jackson during the screen. Jackson went down hard and hit his head on the court. He went to the bench and was clearly dazed. They kept showing him sitting on the bench and it was clear to me that he had a concussion of some sort.
I don't know why the Purdue coaches and trainers didn't recognize this; Jackson definitely shouldn't have been allowed to play anymore that night. Jackson did get back in the game, and, although it was a terrible decision to put him back into the game, I gained a lot of respect for Lewis Jackson on that night.
While Jackson never quite had it as bad as Robbie Hummel injury-wise, he had to deal with a lot of injuries over the course of his career. He missed about half of his sophomore season with a broken foot, but he came back in the conference season to help the Boilers win a share of the conference title. This year he suffered through a lot of back pain that affected his play throughout the season.
Being tough and playing through injuries is great, but if Jackson wasn't good I wouldn't miss him so much. As a freshman, Jackson was the starting point guard. He already had great ball handling skills, but he wasn't much of a threat to score. Over the next couple of years, he figured out how to harness his speed and finish his drives with layups that ended with Jackson on the floor and the ball going in pretty regularly. He also added a serviceable jump shot to keep his defenders honest.
As a college basketball fan, you learn that nothing lasts forever. Players come and go every year, and sometimes do so in the middle of the season. As a lifelong Purdue basketball fan, I have seen and rooted for a lot of great players. Lewis Jackson is one of those great players and one that I won't soon forget.
It took about five years from the time I heard about Lewis Jackson dunking in high school to finally see it happen at Purdue. It was nice, I guess, but I didn't really even care at that point. Lewis had already become one of my favorite Boilermakers of all-time, and watching a short guy dunk is nowhere near as impressive as what I saw him do for four years.
So goodbye, Lewis Jackson. I hope you enjoyed playing as much as I enjoyed watching you.