Digital Harbor point guard George Jackson led the Rams in scoring last season, but he wasn't content with the team's 11-10 finish.
"It was hard for me last year," said Jackson, a junior. "We had a winning season, but it was kind of tough. I needed another scorer."
There was a sharpshooter lying in wait on Digital Harbor's junior varsity team. A scorer that was scoring more than 30 points a game. A scorer that torched Lake Clifton's JV for 48 points last season.
A scorer named Justin Jackson, George's younger brother.
"I wanted to move up to varsity last year, but my coach and my father kept telling me not to do it, [that] I was too young and didn't have that much experience," said Justin, a sophomore shooting guard. "I needed to build my confidence up playing JV, and I was really excited to move up and play with [George]."
The Jackson brothers have transformed the No. 8 Rams, who started the season unranked, into a Class 1A state championship contender.
"They're the bulk, heart, soul and guts of that team, and at this present time, that athletic program," said Lake Clifton coach Herman Harried, whose No. 2 Lakers beat the Rams, 60-58, in overtime in the Chick-fil-A Holiday Classic tournament Dec. 29. "They're comfortable with one another. They have brotherly instincts."
The Jackson brothers didn't get any preseason publicity, but city foes and fans know them now.
"A lot of people slept on them," said Derrious Gilmore, Lake Clifton's senior point guard. "The Jackson brothers, I grew up playing with them and I knew they were good, and now they're getting the chance to show they're good."
The Jacksons' success doesn't surprise Rams coach Johnnie Grimes. Before getting the head coaching job at Digital Harbor, Grimes coached at the Bentalou Recreation Center, where the Jackson brothers first showed promise.
"Basically, it seems kind of crazy, but at like 12 or 13, they already had a feel for the game," Grimes said. "With George and Justin, you could just see that they were going to be good. It comes easy for them."
George is the floor general, averaging 15.2 points and nine assists. Justin has become the scorer George hoped for, averaging 20.8 points and five rebounds.
"George is quiet, he's laid back and he's a quiet leader," Grimes said. "George knows we put a lot of pressure on him, but we know he can handle it. Justin, I think sometimes he's just out there playing by himself. He's so good and he doesn't even know it. He's just having fun. It just comes so easy to him, and that's what makes him so good."
The Jacksons are relishing the opportunity to play together. Because they're a year apart, it's the first time in years they have played on the same team. Last summer, for example, George played Amateur Athletic Union ball for Team Melo under-16, while Justin was on Team Melo under-15.
Playing on the same team also makes things easier for their family.
"Our family was pretty proud of us," Justin said. "That was one of the main reasons why I came here, to play with George. Our family members wanted to see us play high school ball together, because we knew each other and we'd be close."
That closeness is evident on the court.
"They have a really good feel for playing with one another," Grimes said. "Besides that, they're best friends as brothers. They do everything together."
There's one more thing that the brothers hope to do together: win the 1A state championship.
"This year, we know we have the team good enough to win a state championship," George said. "Now that we have Justin, we just have to keep working hard and do it."