He says it’s a spontaneous eruption of macho joy. Justin Jackson doesn’t plan The Face. He doesn’t rehearse it. The Face just is. “I really don’t know what the face looks like,” Jackson shrugs. You do. You have seen The Face. It is, in fact, the face of a UC team that remains on an overachieving run that has stretched Sunday to 14 wins in a row and a possible Top 10 ranking Monday morning. The Face is unmistakable, and it does not vary. Jackson swats a shot into the second row, or rattles the rim with a jam, and there it is: A half-scowl, half-gloat that is accentuated when Jackson hunches his shoulders and sticks out his neck, sort of like a turtle seeking a better view. His jaw could cleave China, from Japan. Jackson offered The Face Sunday, less than a minute into the game. He backed down South Florida center John Egbunu and popped a six-foot jumper that clanged around the rim before dropping. The Face celebrated. Game on. After the UC win – a labor-intensive, 50-45 slam that was absolutely as close as the score showed – Jackson said, “We’re not here just to be undefeated and lose when it’s time to win. You know what I’m sayin’?” The Face is always dangerously close to Look At Me, but never overtly so. UC coach Mick Cronin worries that The Face will be misinterpreted by first-timers – referees and opposing coaches and players who haven’t seen it – and taken personally. Cronin: “I don’t want people to see him for the first time and say, ‘That guy’s crazy.’’’ That’s when misunderstandings occur. “I’m looking out for his career,” Cronin explained. Jackson’s future became sunnier last year, when Cronin finally convinced him that any money he’d make playing basketball, he’d make with his back to the basket. How often did the coach arrive in the gym to see the 6-foot-7 Jackson jacking up 3-pointers? “Multiple times,” Cronin recalls. “He’d say, ‘Coach, I made some in high school.’” “I thought I was Kevin Durant,” Jackson says. Cronin showed Jackson film of Jackson, and of former Bearcats big men. “I saw what I could do and what I couldn’t,” Jackson says. What he couldn’t do was be Kevin Durant. Or make 3-point field goals. “I had the quickness and energy to be out there,” Jackson says. “But there’s more to it. You have to be able to guard the guards. I thought it would be easier than it was.” Jackson’s fury is obvious. Less apparent is his almost balletic ability around the basket. Most centers can’t defend his quickness. Jackson made his first four shots Sunday, against the 6-10 Egbunu, simply by creating space. He made the opening jumper, followed that with a banked 10-footer, a left-handed hook in the lane and a layup. His offensive game has progressed this year the way Kenyon Martin’s did his final three years at UC. Jackson isn’t Martin. But he is joining an impressive pantheon of Bearcats overachievers, from Erik Martin to Eric Hicks to Steve Logan to Martin, who was the ultimate example of the Bearcat Way. “Ferocious guys,” Mick Cronin recalls. “Justin has that kind of heart.” In his only year in the Big East, Eric Hicks was first-team all conference ... as a 6-6 center. “He had the mentality of being a man,” says Jackson. “That’s how I want to be.” The Face does not let down. It has toned down, though, according to Cronin. He says part of Jackson’s success this winter owes to him handling his emotions better than before. “A much more cerebral player this year,” says Cronin.
Jackson's snarl represents overachieving UC team
Cincinnati Enquirer | Feb 2