New season, new team for Jackson
Published 3:51 pm Wednesday, May 19, 2004
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
People can call Deanna Jackson's offseason a lot of things, but dull certainly is not one of them.
Based on the string of events Jackson has experienced in recent months, the start of the WNBA season Friday may actually be a relief.
The T.R. Miller High School graduate will begin her third WNBA season Friday when the Indiana Fever host the New York Liberty at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"It's been a wild offseason for me," Jackson said.
The strange turn of events in Jackson's life began soon after the 2003 WNBA season ended when it was announced her team, the Cleveland Rockers, had folded.
Jackson had spent her first two professional seasons with Cleveland since she was drafted by the Rockers with the eighth pick in the 2002 WNBA draft out of Alabama-Birmingham.
After somewhat limited playing time as a rookie, Jackson's playing time and production increased significantly last year when she averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 rebounds a game. She developed into one of the league's better three-point shooters where she shot 41 percent.
"I really enjoyed my time in Cleveland. I felt we had developed a pretty good fan base," the 6-2 Jackson said. "Word started to leak out after the season ended the team was going to fold. We were really never told why."
The Rockers' decision to fold put a big question mark in Jackson's mind as to what the future held for her and her former teammates.
"There was a time we didn't know what was going to happen. I think we all had some
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legitimate concerns as to the future of the WNBA. Our team, Cleveland, had just folded. The Miami and Portland franchises had folded in the previous couple of years. When stuff like that happens, it puts a big question in the back of your mind," Jackson said.
The WNBA has survived to start another season. The league decided to put the former Rockers in a supplemental draft. Jackson was picked fifth in that draft by the Fever.
"Indiana had expressed a lot of interest in me when I came into the league. Their team officials had told me they had hoped I would fall far enough so they could draft me, but Cleveland beat them to it. So far it has been a good fit," Jackson said.
Indiana went 16-18 last season and missed the WNBA playoffs. The Fever have a new coach this season in Brian Winters.
"For my situation, I think it's good Indiana has a new coach this season. If the same coach had been in place, the current players on the team would already know the system and that would put them ahead of me. With us having a new coach, everybody has to learn a new system and that puts us all on a level playing field," Jackson said.
While Indiana missed the WNBA playoffs last year, Jackson thinks her team has a good nucleus in place.
"They've got some good building blocks with Tamika Catchings and Natalie Williams. Indiana had some injury problems last year, but if we're healthy, we can have a good year," Jackson said.
Jackson and the Fever showed that when they went through the WNBA preseason undefeated at 3-0. Jackson averaged eight points, 6.3 rebounds and three assists during the preseason.
"I got to see quite a bit of playing time during the preseason. I'm hoping I will get a chance to start this season," Jackson said.
Jackson's move to Indiana was just part of her offseason activities. This spring she spent a couple of months playing in a women's league in Seoul, South Korea.
"I played in China during the offseason last year. I got homesick and lost some weight because I didn't eat enough. About the only recognizable food places I saw in China were McDonalds and KFC," Jackson said. "South Korea was completely different. If you didn't know any better, you would think you were in the United States. It was a tremendous experience that I really enjoyed. I got to see the Olympic facilities they used (in 1988). I'd like to go back there some day," Jackson said.
Another reason why Jackson enjoyed South Korea was her team's success.
"I was placed on a team that had traditionally struggled. They had probably averaged about two wins a season for about six years. This year we made the playoffs in that league and people really caught on as to what the team was doing. We also got a nice financial bonus for making the playoffs," Jackson said.
The offseason was not all fun and games. Prior to her trip to South Korea, she and sister Felicia Jackson had their truck hijacked at gunpoint in Birmingham.
"When somebody has a gun pointed at your head, your whole life flashes right before you. We were so scared," Jackson said.
The truck was later recovered with only one missing item.
"The only thing that was stolen was a WNBA basketball. I would have been glad to give them the ball. They didn't have to stick a gun at my head to get it," Jackson said.
Another item Jackson "lost" during the offseason was T.R. Miller's single game scoring record. Ashley Samuel broke Jackson's record of 47 points with a 49-point outing against W.S. Neal.
"I kidded Dad (T.R. Miller Lady Tigers coach Ron Jackson) he should have kept Ashley out of the game so I could keep the record. His response was records are meant to be broken," Jackson said. "I guess if Ashley had to break the record, at least she did it against W.S. Neal. I wouldn't want her to break it against just anybody. At least Ashley didn't catch me for the career school record (which Jackson holds at 2,398 points)."
While her life as a professional athlete has had many rewards, there have been some down sides.