ON THE BENCH: with Jessica Jackson

Women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez is counting on all his players to step up this season, including freshman guard Jessica Jackson.

Jackson will be asked to contribute significant playing time, as USF lost fellow guard Tristen Webb for the season to a knee injury, and the Bulls’ roster only lists nine players.

But it’s playing time that Jackson is used to.

At Roswell High School in a Georgia town of the same name, Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American nominee as a senior, while averaging 19.1 points, four assists and three steals per game.

She finished her high-school career second on the all-time scoring list with 1,408 points and holds the record for most three pointers in a career (205).

Assistant Sports Editor Tony Marquis sat down with Jackson to talk about running, dog owning and video gaming.

TM: You’re from Atlanta?

JJ: I grew up like 30 minutes outside of Atlanta, so it’s not too big; it’s a good-size area.

TM: What did you like to do growing up?

JJ: Most of the time it was playing basketball, that’s all I had time to really do; basketball, school, hang out. I had a good group of friends, and we would just hang out, too. Go to movies, but most of the time we would just sit around, talk.

TM: What’s the last movie you saw?

JJ: Saw 2. It was a little scary.

TM: You ran track in high school? Is that something you still want to do?

JJ: No, track was something to help me get better in basketball, like help me with my speed and flexibility. I did it for fun, mostly.

TM: Running is fun?

JJ: It was fun. We didn’t do a lot of running, our coach was good.

TM: You have a dog?

JJ: It’s a black lab mix, we just got it a couple of years ago; she’s still kind of young, energetic.

TM: Ever come home and find things torn up?

JJ: No, she’s getting a little better at it. She went through her phase.

TM: What’s her name?

JJ: Pepper. Well, like I said, she’s a black dog and her back paws are white. So we were thinking of Salt and Peppa. So we said, “Let’s just call her Pepper.”

TM: Does she ever “Push it?”

JJ: (Laughs.) No.

TM: You’re an avid reader. What genre of books do you like?

JJ: I usually read like a lot of – of course sports magazines – more like inspirational books. I’m reading this one — Mind Gym? It’s about like how to be mentally tough in anything, like sports or life. I like books like that.

TM: Where do you get your inspiration from when you’re on the court?

JJ: I just love to play basketball. I just try to help myself as much as the team. If I can do something to make the team better by just working harder and putting in effort, then that’s what I’ll do.

TM: Did you expect to get a chance to play?

JJ: I was aware of the circumstances I was coming into. But I am up for the challenge. Once I got here, I just wanted to build off that and just try to get better every day, just so I am able to make an impact.

TM: Are you nervous?

JJ: I was at first – I’m just getting out of that. I mean, I have no choice; I have to get out of it. No, I’m not nervous anymore. I think everybody is when they first come in, but the team really has made my transition easier. Everybody’s real accepting; they’re just trying to help me get better. We’re a pretty close team.

TM: You’re new, so what’s something the team doesn’t know about you?

JJ: Um, I don’t know. I don’t have any talents, really.

TM: Can you do backflips, or beat anybody at Madden, stuff like that?

JJ: No, nothing like that. But I am really competitive over video games, though.

TM: Have they figured that out yet?

JJ: Yeah, one of them has. We played the other day, I wasn’t playing that hard. (Laughs.)

TM: You like to play video games?

JJ: I just got a PSP. So I’m addicted to those types of games. I have a PS2 also. I like both. I just like having something to do – when I have free time.

TM: What kind of games?

JJ: Mostly sports games like basketball and football, racing.

TM: No Virtua Tennis or bowling?

JJ: No, no none of those. I play like Need for Speed, like those games. I don’t do bowling. (Laughs.)

TM: Are you an intense gamer? Do you ever stand up and throw the controller?

JJ: No, I just turn – you know the commentators – if I mess up a lot, I just put it on mute.

TM: What’s your game of choice?

JJ: Probably NCAA ’06. I play with South Florida, try to make them a powerhouse. I’ve played like four seasons, so they are up there now. I don’t really turn the game off if I’m losing; if I lose, I lose.

TM: What do you want to do after basketball?

JJ: I want to get into coaching. That’s probably what I’d like to do, just help other people as much as other people have helped me to get to where I am.

TM: You don’t want to hang out and play video games?

JJ: No. (Laughs.) I’ll probably grow out of that.