Ooltewah’s super-quick senior point guard Antonio Jackson will attend Maryville (Tenn.) College and play basketball for one of the most successful NCAA Division III coaches in the country.
The 5-foot-9-inch Jackson was a three-year starter for coach Jesse Nayadley and helped the Owls post a 90-36 record in his four years in the program. In three of those seasons, the Owls won at least 20 games.
“In a nutshell,” Jackson said Wednesday, “I had four great years at Ooltewah and I’ve been blessed to play for coach Nayadley. I became a better, stronger player in my time here.
“Playing college ball is something I’ve dreamed about my whole life. It’s a blessing to me to have the chance at the next level.”
As a senior, Jackson led the Owls to a 19-11 record and to the sectional round where they lost to unbeaten Blackman, 84-58.
Ooltewah went 27-5 in 2011-12 and lost to Memphis Central, 67-54, in the first round of the Class AAA boys state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University.
In 2010-11, the Owls posted a 23-8 mark, but lost to Rhea County, 71-67, in the Region 3-AAA semifinal. In his freshman season, the Owls were 21-12 and lost to Siegel, 65-41, in the sectionals.
“As a freshman we moved him up to the varsity and got a little playing time,” Nayadley said. “We knew then he would be a very good point guard. He can pass, drive and dribble as well as anybody around, and sees the floor as well as anybody.”
As his high school career progressed, the scouting report on Jackson was to not allow him to penetrate into the lane because he had become so adept at finishing a play, either by scoring on dishing to a teammate for a close-in shot.
“Antonio was quicker than most kids I’ve had, quicker with the ball,” Nayadley said. “He could handle the ball extremely well and he got by everybody. In his senior year, he got to be really good at finishing, but he had to work on that. And he did.”
Jackson scored 915 points, had 480 assists and recorded 315 steals during his four years at Ooltewah. As a senior, Jackson scored 451 points, had 184 assists and 122 steals, while winning the District 5-AAA regular-season title only to lose in an upset to Rhea County in the tournament semifinal on a half-court desperation shot by Caio Hysinger.
In his first year of varsity play, Jackson was selected to the district all-tournament team.
As a sophomore, Jackson was named to the all-district regular season and tournament teams, as well as the All-Region 3-AAA team.
The left-hand shooting point guard again made both district regular season and tournaments teams, plus the all-region team. He led the Owls to Bay High tournament, region and sub-state championships en route to the school’s first state tournament berth in 32 years.
This past season Jackson, who played AAU basketball for Paul Gaffney, was named to the all-tournament team in Charleston, S.C., both district teams, the region tournament squad and has been chosen to play in the Tennessee vs. Georgia All-Star game.
Jackson averaged 15 points, six assists and four steals in his senior season and despite the close defensive attention paid by opponents, a large majority of his offensive impact was generated by assaulting the lane.
“He could get by anybody,” Nayadley said. “When teams tried hard to keep him from getting into the lane, he still got there. He’s a good player, a good person, has great grades and has never been a problem in school or basketball. (Maryville College) is getting a quality young man.”
Jackson said there are many facets to playing point guard and he became a smarter player while receiving the mentoring of Nayadley.
“There are a lot of decisions to make,” Jackson said, “and I got better at doing that. I learned the point guard has to know all the positions, who he can do what and how to control the speed of the game, when to slow it down, when to speed things up. As a point guard, you’re the generator out there.”
While he had several sterling performances during his prep career, Jackson recalled two as the games that stick out to him.
One came during his senior year when the Owls were playing host West Ashley, which was 10-0 at the time, in a holiday tournament in Charleston, S.C. Jackson scored 24 points and had eight assists in the Owls’ 70-52 victory.
“They were undefeated and everyone was saying they were expected to win,” Jackson said. “We had nothing to lose, so we went out there and played great, I played pretty well, and we beat them. We all did great.”
The other outstanding effort, this one in his sophomore season, was against district rival Cleveland.
“I ended up with 18 points and 15 assists and that was a big day for me,” Jackson said. “At that time I was still learning the game more than playing it, but everything was clicking.”
Jackson said he also considered Bryan College, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Wesleyan College and Walters State Community College before deciding on Maryville College, located 16 miles east of Knoxville near the Smoky Mountains.
Scots assistant coach Raul Placeres was primarily responsible for Jackson’s recruitment – as a Division III school Maryville does not give athletic scholarships, but does provide academic grants – and made an impression on the Owls standout.
“He’s been talking to me for more than a year,” Jackson said. “This season he checked with me about every other day and that meant a lot to me. I know good things about the head coach (Randy Lambert), the college and I know I can get a good education up there.
“If I’m not able to play at the pro level, then I’ll have a good education, a chance to get a good job and support myself.”
Jackson, 18, also said that on his official visit to the Maryville campus, coaches were candid in discussing his potential role with the team and repeatedly said they wanted him to be part of the program.
“Most coaches will see you play one game, but Maryville College coaches probably came to three or four games this season and also saw me play summer ball in the Rocky Top League in Cleveland.”
Lambert, who played at Maryville College and has coached the Scots for 33 years, liked what he saw in Jackson.
“Antonio is a jet-quick point guard with great floor vision,” Lambert, whose 1,489 career points still rank as the sixth-leading scorer in school history, said in a press release. “He comes to us from an outstanding high school program.
“He may not be one of the biggest players on the floor, but he certainly has a big impact on any game that he plays.”
Maryville College is a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Lambert has a 612-271 record. Lambert uses an up-tempo style of play and that suits Jackson’s high-octane background.
The Scots finished 10-14 in 2012-13, the program’s first losing season in 26 years, and are currently ranked eighth nationally among Division III teams with a winning percentage of .783.
Maryville’s 10 losses in 2010-11 was the school’s first double-figure loss season since 1988-89. The Scots also lost 10 games two years ago and 14 this past season.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)