AHEAD of Heritage Round in the SBL there is no greater person to reflect on their journey than CJ Jackson who has been a star player, playing-coach, men’s and women’s coach, and league and club administrator all part of a remarkable time since arriving in Perth from California.
Jackson is as synonymous with WA basketball and the SBL as anybody over the history of the league as it celebrates Heritage Round this weekend.
It all began for Jackson as an import with the Perth Redbacks back in 1989. He had a tremendous playing career before beginning his transition into coaching while still playing at the fledgling Mandurah Magic.
He went on to have roles also at the helm of the Redbacks, Swan City Mustangs and Cockburn Cougars where was named the 1999 Coach of the Year, and the East Perth Eagles. He also spent time in the NBL as an assistant coach at the Perth Wildcats.
Jackson also spent time as general manager of the SBL and then the chief operating officer at Basketball WA while his passion has always been his work through Skyplay Sports where he coaches and mentors youngsters to help them not only develop their basketball, but life skills.
There’s no sign of Jackson slowing down almost 30 years after arriving in Perth either. His last stint coaching in the SBL only ended last year when he led the Perry Lakes Hawks women all the way to Game 3 of the semi finals.
He decided to step down to focus on a high performance role at Perry Lakes while concentrating on his work at Skyplay Sports coaching and mentoring the youngsters while also still coaching in roles at Scotch College and Iona Girls College.
It’s hard to imagine any one person could have crammed more into their basketball journey since arriving in a foreign country or who has become a bigger part of the sport in their new home.
Not only that, but Jackson has well and truly given more back to the sport than what he ever received and that is why he is so universally respected and liked from anyone who ever comes into contact with him.
With the Heritage Round coming up this weekend, it gives a chance for Jackson to reflect on his journey and he’s grateful for everything the game of basketball and the city of Perth has given him since his arrival.
“It’s been a great time here, it really has and I’m so grateful to all the clubs who gave me an opportunity to be a part of their organisation,” Jackson said.
“It’s not just the clubs, but the parents, supporters and a lot of people who have supported me and thought they could trust me to mentor and coach their sons and daughters. Even for the former CEO Rick Smith to give me the chance of becoming the operations manager and knowing I knew enough about the game was a big deal.
“I’ve been involved at the Wildcats and I had the opportunity with Scott Fisher so I’ve had a good amount of roles, but I think I’ve put the hard yakka in to deserve those.
“I’m just so grateful that I’ve had all those experiences because when I speak to kids now and they say what they want to do, I can say that I’ve been to every level that they want to go to so I can speak and mentor them from experience. That’s been a great, great thing for me.”
Growing up, Jackson could only dream of the prospect that basketball would become his life and that he would be able to have such an impact not only on court himself, but on developing a whole other generation or two of rising players.
Jackson can’t be more thankful that he has been allowed to make basketball his life and to have such a big impact on the sport in Western Australia.
“It means a lot to me because I know that if it wasn’t for the Redbacks pulling me out here, I would have never had that opportunity to do that,” he said.
“I always feel like if you were an import as I started out as, that your role is to give back to the community that brought you out here because there’s over a million players out there to choose from.
“To be one of the chosen few was something I was humbled by at the start and it has been a great journey for me to go back and coach and take on a mentoring role to help the kids.
“We can work on the basketball but I also help them understand that it might not end up with them playing basketball for a living, they might end up being teachers, fire fighters, engineers, lawyers, doctors and whatever else. My journey has probably created a lot of those opportunities for the players I’ve taken on a coaching and mentoring role with.”
Growing up in California, basketball and baseball was life for Jackson during the different seasons. He wanted to make sure that as he transitioned into adulthood, that didn’t change either.
While he loved playing, it soon became apparent he wanted to help youngsters develop and grow.
“As I was growing up basketball and baseball were my two favourite sports and I always figured that I would try to do something good with both sports really,” Jackson said.
“I was fortunate enough from seventh grade on to when I finished high school to be involved with some great junior high and high school teams with coaches who instilled passion about the sport.
“I always thought I would be in a position to do that myself, but I had no idea I’d end up mentoring kids. But I did coach kids when I went to college although that basis was to have fun playing for them. I had no idea the whole journey would be this fulfilling and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
While Jackson lives for coaching and mentoring the youngsters, he had a tremendous time the past four years coaching the Lady Hawks in the Women’s SBL.
It was very much a team in a rebuilding stage when he took over as coach and developed the likes of
Kate Anthony, Lauren Jeffers, Sarah Donovan, Emily Burton, Annika Renkema and Emma Clarke in a team that by last year was one win from a grand final.
They have now continued that progression on this year with Deanna Smith transitioning from player to coach and Jackson couldn’t be happier for them.
“I am very happy for the girls because they have come a long way. We experienced some growing pains and they are starting to benefit from that early start to where they are now,” he said.
“Their basketball IQ’s have grown immensely and with the acquisition of Nat and Janique back into the team, and Gabby coming over and Toni coming back, it’s a formidable side. If they can keep that group they will be a contender for a while.”
Jackson would be as happy as anybody to see Perry Lakes win the championship this year largely on the back of a playing group he developed.
But the Mandurah Magic look to be their greatest threat so far and it’s only fitting that for Heritage Round this Saturday night, the Hawks and Magic lock horns in Mandurah in a contest that could very well decide the minor premiership.
“It would mean a lot to me to see them win a championship actually because I know they have been putting in the hard work to get there. I know some of the pain that came with the semi-final loss last year which I feel has made them hungrier,” Jackson said.
“Now in saying that, I’ve only been to one game this season because when you finish up, you kind of pull out. But I saw them play the Redbacks and I saw what was a very good side and not taking anything away from the Magic who are very good as well, but I think those two teams should be fighting it out for the grand final.”
Jackson was at a point by the end of 2016 where he didn’t think he could continue to coach the Lady Hawks, do the high performance role at Perry Lakes and continue his focus on coaching and mentoring with Skyplay Sports.
Coaching in the SBL was the thing that had to give but he’s more than happy to stay involved.
“I’m glad to stay involved and I think it’s been my passion and calling ever since I came here to actually put back. I would like my legacy above everything else to be about giving back and coaching kids because that’s what I really love doing,” he said.
“Me being involved at the club in a high performance role, I think the kids love when I’m around and they know I feed energy off them. I think it’s been a very good transition for me to go back in that.
“That also includes my own business with Skyplay where I’ve had a chance to go back and coach juniors because that’s where the masses are. Coaching the Hawks women was great, but they are a group of 15 or 20. But I’m all about the masses now and helping as many kids as I can.”
Jackson has never forgotten his roots either and the LA Lakers will forever have a massive place in his heart.
“I love my Lakers and I’ve loved them even from when we lost way back in the Jerry West era and I will stay a Laker,” Jackson said.
“If I need to prove it I will get a tattoo on my butt or have it on the tombstone on my grave saying I’m one of the greatest Lakers supporters. I’m very happy with my club and some of the changes we’ve made. There has been some growing pains of late, but we’ll always be Showtime.”