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Wanderer Settles Down With Idaho Jackman Making Most Of Last Chance In College

Idaho senior Jason Jackman is at his third school, playing for his fourth basketball coach in the last five years.

That’s traveling, isn’t it?

Many who follow such a circuitous route don’t find what they’re looking for - hoop happiness and/or a degree.

Meet an exception.

Jackman will receive that prized sheepskin in May. On the court, he’s simply improved a ton since last year, when he teased with flashes of stunning play.

“I’m definitely playing harder and this has definitely been my best year,” said the 6-foot-9 center who will lead the Vandals against North Texas tonight at 7:05 in the Kibbie Dome. “I guess I’m just realizing it’s my last chance and I’m putting all I have into it.”

All of his points could be considered second-chance baskets.

Grab a road map and follow Jackman around for a while. He grew up in Las Vegas before his family relocated to Hurricane, Utah, when he was in high school. Always a head taller than his classmates growing up, Jackman stood out on the hardwood, too, and committed to powerful Utah, recruited by then-Utes assistant Joe Cravens.

Jackman redshirted as a freshman and became a starter the following season. So far so good. Then head coach Rick Majerus opted to play one of his recruits and Jackman didn’t leave the bench in 2 of 3 games.

“I knew I could play at plenty of other places,” reasoned Jackman, and he began trying a few.

He went to Dixie Junior College near his hometown of Hurricane, but brought along a bad attitude.

“I felt like I was going down a league and I don’t know if I put my full potential into anything I did,” said Jackman, who was on a talented club, but one that ultimately under-achieved.

Meanwhile, Cravens had taken the Idaho job and he recruited Jackman for a second time. Jackman no longer needed change-of-address forms, but his maturation was just beginning.

The Vandals floated along at 9-7 when the 1996 calendar turned to February. A 1-8 month doomed Cravens, who was canned and replaced after the season by Kermit Davis, Jackman’s fourth coach.

Reviewing game films, Davis saw Jackman play the star, but only in cameo appearances.

“He played in spurts,” Davis said.

Jackman spent too much time debating calls with officials. With long locks and a goatee - he would fit perfectly in the cast of a Robin Hood movie - he became a target of hecklers on the road. The most memorable, he says, was Idaho State fans singing the theme from Batman and inserting Jackman’s name.

All of which led to a label. “People around the conference were saying he was kind of a soft guy,” Davis said. “But from day one, from lifting weights to the academic part (he’s a 3.0 student), he’s been really good. I’m really proud of him, but I don’t take a lot of credit.”

Jackman deserves the credit, Davis said, recalling examples illustrating his point. “I know I sound like an old-fashioned guy from the South, but I was going to address (hair length) with Jason. Before I did, he got it cut on his own. The way he looks, presents himself, his work ethic, his grade point average - it’s a generic thing to say, but he’s just matured so much.”

Against New Mexico State last month, Jackman had a rotten night, though his numbers seemed acceptable (13 points and eight rebounds).

“I got on him pretty hard,” Davis said. “After the film session, the team leaves and he comes back in and says, ‘Coach, that’ll never happen again.”’ Two nights later, Jackman scored 26 in a road win vs. North Texas.

Jackman worked over Washington State on Tuesday with 21 points and nine rebounds. He’ll probably get a shot at playing professionally overseas.

“He could play in the Pac-10 and be a very good player,” WSU forward Carlos Daniel said.

Jackman averages 17.5 points, but that stat should carry an asterisk. Idaho, particularly on the road, exhausts the shot clock, limiting Jackman’s scoring opportunities.

“I really figured in league his average would go down, with Reggie (Rose) hurt and people collapsing on him,” Davis said. “But he’s fought through those things.”

He’s had gobs of experience on the adversity front. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs,” said Jackman, galled by UI’s 11-13 record but pleased with the team’s improved chemistry over last season. “There’s a purpose for everything and something good is bound to happen.”

Perhaps it already has.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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