Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character in Jerry McGuire coined the unforgettable phrase “Show me the money.” But senior Altron Jackson put a new spin on that quote last year – “Wait for the money.”
With NBA riches dangling in front of him following a sensational junior campaign, Jackson was faced with a difficult decision: stick around for his senior season or bolt for the money awaiting him in the pros.
“It came into my mind (that) I wanted to leave,” Jackson said. “But hey, that’s just being a young athlete.”
Part of Jackson realized his talent was approaching NBA level. Despite coming off the bench for the majority of the season, Jackson led the Bulls in scoring for the second straight season, netting 18.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. More impressively, Jackson increased his production each season in every major offensive category and cut his turnovers from 64 to 43. For his efforts, Jackson was named both Conference USA Sixth Man of the Year (for the second consecutive season) and first team all-conference.
But despite all the accolades, Jackson also heard the whispers he might not be ready for the NBA just yet. Some scouts questioned his strength, others his ball-handling skills.
“The things I was hearing from a lot of general managers was that I needed to come off the pick and roll a lot better,” Jackson said. “And handling the ball better in transition.”
So Jackson sat down and weighed his options. Should he risk possible injury by sticking around for another season to improve his game, or leave for the pros and financial security?
“(The money) factored in (while deciding),” Jackson said. “But it felt like (I needed) another year of maturing and getting better. Then hopefully, I can make some money playing basketball, because that’s what I want to do.”
Jackson was not alone in making the most important call of his life, heeding words from his immediate support staff.
“I got some advice from my family and coaching staff on what I needed to do,” Jackson said. “Then I sat down and thought about it and that’s the decision I came up with.”
Jackson is unquestionably the Bulls’ most complete scoring threat. A slasher by nature, Jackson has developed one of the most wicked mid-range jump shots in college basketball. With a high release point on his jumper, Jackson can be nearly unguardable when he gets the ball around the free throw line.
“(Jackson’s) a player that, in my opinion, has the best middle game in college basketball,” coach Seth Greenberg said. “He has the ability to defend the two guard as well as the point guard, but his best attributes are the fact that he can score so many different ways.”
At a wiry 6-6, 192 pounds, Jackson’s game does not end at the offensive end of the floor and he can be equally as lethal on defense. His long arms make him tough to pass around and Jackson can be a nightmare for opposing guards at the top of the Bulls’ trapping 1-3-1 defense.
“Altron has such long arms, he gets his hands on passes most other guys can’t,” Greenberg said. “He’s plays much taller than he is.”
As a senior this season, Jackson also assumes a new role – team leader. In summer and preseason workouts, Jackson has been instrumental in helping the Bulls’ seven underclassmen improve their games.
“Altron comes to practice every day, plays hard and teaches,” freshman point guard Brian Swift said. “He’s been through this (and) he’s helping a lot. It feels great playing with him.”
However, being a senior not only means providing leadership on and off the court, it means this is Jackson’s last opportunity to reach an NCAA Tournament – something that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Expected to reach the Big Dance last season, USF struggled to a 18-13 record and wasn’t even invited to the National Invitation Tournament.
“This is my last chance,” Jackson said. “We have to get better each day and if we improve, then we’ll get to the NCAAs. But right now we have to take one game at a time and win. That’s the bottom line.”
If all goes according to plan, the bottom line next year could be where the owner of some NBA team will be signing his name on Jackson’s check. In a mock 2002 draft conducted on NBADraft.net, Jackson is pegged to go to the Philadelphia 76ers with the 22nd pick in the first round.
But for right now, the key words for Jackson will be improvement – and patience. And like last year, Jackson’s slogan could once again be “Wait for the money.”
“With another year, if I stay healthy and continue to get better, then I should be ready (for the NBA),” Jackson said. “I mean, I’ve been poor for what, 20 years? So why not another year?”
- Brandon Wright covers men’s basketball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org