Time spent at two high schools, prep school and a junior college seemed at times like "a long road" for Alex Jackson to travel to get to a Division I program, but the 6-foot-5, 215-pound forward wouldn't have had it any other way.
On Monday, Jackson – a Frederick Community College standout – committed to Quinnipiac. The former Randallstown star was also recruited by Albany, Hartford, Morehead State, St. Peter's and Sam Houston State.
"It feels good," Jackson said Tuesday. "I'm glad that I found a place to go that needs me and wants me, and the place to me, really, was perfect. Nice coaches, great atmosphere, great facilities, and most of all, it is a winning program. I'm just so excited right now. I really can't wait. I wish I could leave today to go to school and get started."Jackson, who started his high school career at Woodlawn, first emerged as a Division I recruit at Randallstown, helping the Rams to the Class 2A state championship in 2007 and a runner-up finish in 2008. Appalachian State, Morgan State and UMBC all expressed interest in Jackson, but before graduating from Randallstown, he left town for Charlotte, N.C. to attend Evelyn Mack Academy.
While finishing up his last high school credits, Jackson played for Queen City Prep and continued to garner DI interest. Earning his diploma was no problem, but Jackson's SAT score came up short of NCAA qualifying standards.
"I really didn't realize that I had to go to junior college until a couple weeks before school started," Jackson said. "I started scrambling. I called UMBC -- at that time they were recruiting me. They [recommended] Frederick. Hagerstown offered me a scholarship, but I just liked the Frederick campus. It's a nice campus, [and it] had some basketball equipment that I thought could help me better my game."
It didn't take long for Jackson to make a favorable impression on FCC coach Dave Miller. In his freshman year with the Cougars, Jackson averaged 20 points and nine rebounds, earning a host of individual accolades for his play.
"He made first-team All-Maryland JUCO, made first-team All-Region XX [and] made All-NJCAA honorable mention," Miller said. "He can make big shots, he's a very skilled offensive player, he can rebound and he's a good, dependable leader. We won the first Region XX tournament championship in the history of the school."
With a dominant freshman year behind him, Jackson threw himself into workouts with an eye on an even more successful sophomore season. He also took care of business in the classroom, keeping pace with his requirements so that he could earn his associate's degree in two years. But during the third week of practice last fall, Jackson suffered what Miller called "a nagging back injury that got progressively worse." Jackson was relegated to a lot of rehab -- and no basketball activities -- for the entire season.
"This year was a really testing year," Jackson said. "Not playing basketball was hard for me. When you're not able to play basketball, that's like my sanctuary. If there are problems at home, with school or anywhere else, on the court is where they all go away. When I was not playing with my team, it really took something from me. I really started doubting myself at times, but I just prayed to God that everything would turn out OK. My mother was there for me along with [my trainer Kevin] Bullock. They were in my corner, [and told me to] just stick with it, keep working hard and play my game."
Miller presented Jackson with two options – use his redshirt year and return for another year at Frederick, or finish his degree and move on to a DI school with three years of eligibility remaining. Jackson -- who is now 100 percent healthy -- quickly chose the latter as his preferred course of action, and Albany and Quinnipiac emerged as his frontrunners.
Jackson took visits to both campuses and was impressed with both schools, but Quinnipiac – for a number of reasons – stuck out in his mind.
"They're a program that has a lot of good things going for it – two 20-win seasons, [former NBA player] Scott Burrell is one of the coaches, and he's a great guy. He can do a lot of good for me and the program," Jackson said. "Coach [Tom] Moore had a lot to offer with his 13 years at UConn under Jim Calhoun. And I just thought looking at the situation, the strength of schedule was very good last year. The conference has risen and passed a lot of other conferences. I [liked that it] was a small school, 5,500 students. I thought I could really lock into my teachers one-on-one more instead of being in a lecture hall with 100 kids where I could easily get lost."
At Frederick, Jackson played the 4 as a freshman but was slated to play more of a 3 position as a sophomore. Miller said the Quinnipiac coaches see him as a combo forward who can outmuscle small forwards and exploit matchups with power forwards thanks to his quickness.
"He was what they needed," Miller said. "He doesn't have to go there and be a perimeter player or a post player. He just has to go there and be himself, and that's an athletic forward. ... He can shoot the basketball from the outside, and he can score very well inside. They like his maturity and the fact that he'll be a sophomore, but a little bit older than most other sophomores. Alex knows how to play winning basketball. He's a physical player and they really like his work ethic."
Jackson, who's interested in studying mass communications at Quinnipiac, has a couple more classes to finish up this summer. Until then, he's counting the days until his three-year stint with the Bobcats begins.
"It took a lot of hard work and dedication," Jackson said. "It didn't come easy. I worked out every day. It was a grind, but I felt comfortable and confident that it would happen. At Quinnipiac, I'm [looking forward to] having three great years, our team winning a lot, getting my degree and making my mom happy."