Over the last two years, no two words have reverberated around Walsh Gymnasium more than “JaQuan Jackson.” The words became calling cards for a momentum-shifting three-pointer, or better, a dagger that secured a win for Tony Bozzella’s side.
On May 7, still two weeks away from receiving her Bachelor’s in Social and Behavioral Sciences, Jackson had officially risen from Pirate to Royal, signing with storied German club Saarlouis Royals of the Damen Bundesliga (translation: Ladies National League).
The Royals enjoyed back-to-back title-winning seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, but have also suffered losing spells in recent years, experiencing relegation in 2011-12, after a last-place finish. Back in the first tier, the Royals flirted with the title for three seasons from 2014-15 to 2016-17; however, the Royals most recent campaign ended in ninth place, only four points clear of avoiding another drop.
Jackson caught the eye of scouts from Saarlouis – a small city on the River Saar that is a three-pointer from France and a full-court press from Luxembourg. The move is a life-changing one for the 5-foot-8 guard from Killeen, Texas, but Jackson has no room for trepidation.
“I’m honestly just excited to have an opportunity, I don’t think I have enough time to be scared, I’ll call it more anxious that I have another chance to play the game that I love,” Jackson said in an email interview.
Make no mistake, Jackson earned her shot at competing at the professional level. Her collegiate journey began at Louisiana Tech, where she experienced plenty of highs and lows. Jackson began her time in Ruston, La. by scoring a freshman-record 51 three-pointers for the Lady Techsters, but finished with a sophomore season that featured a 4.3-point decline in both points-per-game and three-point percentage, and a 14.5-point drop in free-throw percentage.
The sophomore slump did not come to define Jackson, though. If anything, it was the catalyst for a transfer that altered the course of her basketball career, and one that has her scheduled to fly to Germany in August.
“I always dreamed of being a pro basketball player, and I feel like I’ve worked so hard to get where I am,” Jackson said. “However, in the beginning I stayed patient.”
Jackson was forced to wait when she arrived in South Orange, despite being eager to impact a talented team that had re-loaded with veterans, following a Big East regular season title and NCAA Tournament appearance. When Jackson finally made her debut on Nov. 5, 2016, the roster had transformed from seasoned to raw, and not even Bozzella, in his fourth year as Seton Hall head coach, knew for certain that it was the beginning of a program rebuild.
“We knew there would be a transition period; I’ve always told [athletic director] Pat Lyons there’s going to be a transitional period at some point,” Bozzella later said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be year two or year six or year three, and it was in year four.”
A bright spot amidst a season of growing pains, Jackson rediscovered her long-range accuracy and on-the-ball swagger, as she posted a career-high 15.3 points-per-game, in addition to 57 three-pointers, surpassing her record-breaking total from 2013-14. The efforts earned her preseason All-Big East recognition heading into her senior season.
Her final season is South Orange began in a place that Jackson could not have envisioned, though. Recognized as the driving force of the Pirates by coaches around the conference, Jackson was forced to come off the bench, due to the addition of several impactful transfers, including graduate Donnaizha Fountain from Temple.
Despite a decreased role to start her second season in South Orange, Jackson made the most of her deployment off the bench and ultimately finished with a higher field goal and three-point percentage (37.6 and 41.5 percent) than she had in her higher-scoring junior season (33.1 and 39.3 percent). As a senior, Jackson also raised her free-throw percentage from 75 to 90 percent, and decreased her turnover rate from one every 23.8 minutes to one every 14.1 minutes.
Midway through the season, with the Pirates teetering at a 3-5 record in-conference, Fountain departed the program with little explanation. Suddenly, Jackson was called upon to be one of the team’s primary weapons once more.
“She [Jackson] was our most important player last year, she knows now that she needs to play for us to be successful,” assistant coach Lauren DeFalco said after the Pirates first game without Fountain, a 62-57 win over St. John’s on Jan. 21.
In the wake of the departure, Jackson responded with a 14-point performance against St. John’s and back-to-back performances of 20-plus points against Providence and Creighton, on Jan. 26 and 28. She finished the regular season with an average of 11.1 points per game, but her scoring in those final 10 games were an average of 13.3 points a game.
With only 54 days separating the end of her college career and the signing to launch her professional career, a lot had to happen quickly for Jackson to realize her dream as she had. First, she had to discuss options with her family, pondering the question that all athletes must eventually face head-on: ‘Is my time playing the game up?’ ”
Once she and her family believed that a March 14 loss in the WNIT would not go down as her last competitive game, Jackson began searching for a sports agency, and one with an agent she knew could find her best fit.
Jackson settled on Flash Agency, a European-based agency with a pedigree of signing American college players. In April, a former opponent of Jackson’s, Creighton alumni Brianna Rollerson, who averaged 7.1 rebounds as a senior with the Bluejays in 2016-17, took home the title in the northern second tier in Germany, after Flash Agency helped Rollerson sign with Wolfpack Wolfenbütte. Rollerson could now potentially face Jackson in the fall, a long way from their first meeting in Omaha, on Dec. 31, 2016.
Flash Agency US ?? Guard Jaquan Jackson will play her rookie season… https://t.co/CHQDnhE14l
— Flash Agency (@TheFlashAgency) May 9, 2018
When Flash Agency presented the offer to play for Saarlouis, Jackson knew it was the right place to begin her professional career. Moving to Europe is a big step, but the idea of adopting Germany as home is not as foreign to Jackson as some might think.
“I knew a little [about Germany] from my dad because, when he was in the military, he was stationed in Germany, so he felt as [if] it was a great opportunity for me,” Jackson said.
In the near term, Jackson will look to put the bow on a five-year journey that has seen her achieve the best of both academic and athletic pursuits. She will walk across the Prudential Center stage on May 21, with one hand grasping her baccalaureate diploma. The other hand, however, will have a basketball; not literally, but metaphorically. Very few are able to play the game for a living after receiving their diploma, but that is exactly what Jackson will be able to; dribble, dribble, dribble, all the way across the Atlantic.
“Words can’t describe how proud [my coaches] are, to [see] me keep bouncing the ball,” Jackson said. However, when I told Coach B [Bozzella], it was one of many best moments we have shared together.”
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.