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Eagles’ Jackson thinks he chose right place

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / December 25, 2010

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Reggie Jackson did not need extravagant enticements to clinch his decision to enroll at Boston College. All it took to seal his choice was an empty gym and a basketball.

Two years ago, Jackson and Dallas Elmore were taking a recruiting trip when they walked past the Eagles’ practice court. Nobody was around, so they ducked inside. While the bounces echoed, Jackson decided to cancel his other visits.

“He had another visit lined up,’’ recalled Jackson’s brother, Travis. “And I told him, ‘Nevada seems like a nice place.’ But BC provided everything he wanted, academics and the ACC, the best conference.

“He always loves a challenge. I remember he spent most his visit in the gym with Dallas. They got some shots up and all they talked about was playing in the ACC. He thought he would do well there and he always sticks with whatever he starts, so I knew he’d be going to BC.’’

Little did Jackson know that vacuous setting would be a premonition for his collegiate career, the Eagles often playing before less-than-capacity crowds. And neither apathy nor the shock of BC’s program making its second coaching change in 24 years have thrown Jackson off his game.

In fact, he is blossoming as a take-charge point guard, averaging 19.2 points per game on shooting percentages of 54.0 (field goals), 50.9 (3-pointers), and 80.4 (free throws) as BC is off to a 10-2 start. What was expected to be an adjustment year under coach Steve Donahue is turning into a more than credible season for BC. And the new style is showcasing Jackson’s ability to get teammates involved in the offense and his propensity to take over when things break down.

Jackson’s combination of size (6 feet 3 inches, 208 pounds) and athleticism make him a unique professional prospect at the point and difficult matchup for most collegiate opponents.

“I did the research, and this is one of the best colleges in America,’’ Jackson said. “And for the opportunity to have a degree from BC, I’d play in front of no fans. Just playing with our team, my brothers, that’s enough for me to come out each game prepared, intense.

“You can look at it in a negative sense but I always try to be positive. Being in Boston gives you the essence of what it’s like when you get in the real world, it gives you an understanding of how it’s going to be — not always is everybody going to be in your corner. State schools, you don’t really get that, because every day you have the town, and it’s going to be there behind you at all times.’’

Everything went as planned as Jackson apprenticed behind Tyrese Rice in his first season at BC. Then, the Eagles slumped to a 15-16 record and coach Al Skinner was dismissed.

“He was like a father figure,’’ Jackson said of Skinner. “But there was no time period for us to really hang our heads. We had to say our farewells to Coach Skinner. He still wishes the best for us, as if we were his own kids, and he knows we still think very highly of him. But we hit the jackpot, we hit the lotto, when we got Coach Donahue. Ever since our first meeting, we knew we had an opportunity to do something special.”

Moving around Reginald Shon Jackson, 20, was born in Pordenone in northeast Italy, where his father, Saul, was serving in the US military. He said he was named by a friend of his mother, with no regard to Reggie Jackson the baseball player. The Jackson family lived in Italy’s Friuli-Venezia, Giulia region, between Treviso and Udine, until Reggie was 4 1/2. Then the Jacksons moved to England, then North Dakota, Florida, Georgia, and Colorado Springs. Jackson’s first words were in Italian, and he was an Italian citizen until two years ago, when he had to declare an allegiance, choosing the US.

“I was with a nanny until I was 2 or 3 and I was bilingual,’’ Jackson said of his infancy in Italy. “Also, when we got to the States we traveled a tremendous amount, so moving doesn’t affect me. I’m not afraid of change. Whenever I can pick up something new, it doesn’t matter what age or how hard it is. I get some Spanish here, because the barber shop I go to, they speak Spanish, so I pick up a few things there.’’

The Jackson family’s itinerant existence influenced Jackson’s gregarious nature.

“You get a chance to see the world a little differently,’’ Travis Jackson said. “You’re like an ambassador. That’s why [Reggie] has leadership skills. Wherever you go, you feel you’re the only one, and so that helped him adapt when he went to BC. We were a traveling family, so he was always moving around, being introduced to different coaches, and he never seemed uncomfortable in any situation.’’

But Jackson threw off recruiters with his football exploits and also because of his role on an AAU basketball team. There also seemed to be a question about his best position.

“He was a football prospect and when he played basketball, he played off the ball,’’ said Northeastern assistant coach Pat Duquette, who helped recruit Jackson to BC. “That’s part of why he flew under the radar. He was looking for an opportunity to eventually be a point guard and no other schools at our level thought of him that way.’’

Said Travis Jackson, “I take the credit, because I shoot the ball a lot and, as a little brother, he had to pass the ball all the time. He was only a shooting guard for one or two years. He’s a thinker on his feet and, as talented and athletic as he is, he amazes me because he always wants to make the basketball play. He’ll have the shot and be thinking about how to get the team involved.’’

Shooting to fore After Jackson enrolled at BC, he went on a strength program and worked on developing outside shooting consistency.

“He put on 25 pounds without sacrificing any quickness,’’ Duquette said of Jackson. “He worked hard on his shooting form, which is a little unusual, it’s more of a set shot than jump shot from ‘3.’ What sets him apart is his ability to create his own shot and, almost in midair, change his shot in order to get it off. And that’s a rare ability.’’

But Jackson’s shot needed fine-tuning, according to Donahue.

“There were a couple of things,’’ Donahue said. “He was undisciplined, he did something a little different every time. We talked about things like shooting with similar footwork and make the stroke similar. He tightened things up, so he was not as elongated. He used a lot of arms and was upright. And, now, he’s stepping into his shot and doing a lot of things shooters do.

“He’s still a work in progress, and he’s going to get better.’’

Donahue recently described Jackson as “a triple-double waiting to happen.’’ Jackson is among the few NCAA Division 1 leading scorers shooting better than 50 percent from the field on both 2- and 3-pointers and 80 percent from the foul line.

“The assists may not happen, because we share the ball differently than a lot of teams,’’ Donahue said. “Rebounds are something — we need him to do that, particularly on the defensive end, because we play kind of small and have younger guys. And Reggie has the ability athletically to help us on the defensive glass, and we are going to rely on that.

“He has a terrific feel for the game. He knows when to go by his man or make a play for himself. He’s getting the ball over halfcourt and attacking so aggressively, so he gets easy shots for others. And, because he’s so athletic and converting from defense to offense so quickly, it’s hard to guard us.’’

Donahue said it was a feeling-out process when he got to The Heights.

“Reggie bought into what we were doing and he was looking for that responsibility, he wanted to be the point guard,’’ the coach said. “He thought he could make other players better and we’re a better team with him there, and I kind of agreed with him.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.