When first reading his name, one may think of The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, but freshman guard Mike Jackson’s passion is basketball, not music. The Red Hawk has made quite the impression during his first season on the team, both on and off the court.
Jackson has already racked up some impressive stats, scoring a whopping 42 points against Rowan University on Feb. 16 — his career-high. He is also turning heads on the defensive end, with eight rebounds against Kean University on Jan. 19.
From Jersey City, New Jersey, Jackson played for Union City High School before coming to Montclair State University. It was in his home city where he found the discipline to push himself to be the best player he could be.
“Back at home, there’s basically nothing there,” Jackson said. “It’s just a basketball court and a ball. I don’t want to think about going back there. I want to make sure my family is straight. Everything that happened back in my life pushes me to keep going and do good.”
Jackson’s team has been a crucial support system for him and his success. Sophomore guard Kieran Flanagan sees potential in Jackson and lifts him up, as Jackson does for his teammates.
“Ever since preseason workouts, you could tell he’s a hard worker,” Flanagan said. “[Jackson] is a great team player. He’s always encouraging you with your shots [with] little pointers, and I try to do the same for him.”
Head coach Justin Potts shared similar thoughts on the basketball player. Potts met Jackson through recruitment for the collegiate level and saw his work effort then.
“I think the biggest thing is just the amount of work that he’s put in,” Potts said. “Coming out of high school is an adjustment for every guy, but I think his work ethic has really grown and developed early in the year.”
Potts gave an example of Jackson’s rigor when it comes to the game.
“We talked to him about trying to get in and work more [on] the day of the [Ramapo College of New Jersey] game, [and] he made 500 threes before the game,” Potts said. “So, that’s just an example of putting the time in to work at it.”
Jackson said his experiences in Jersey City have made him a better team player. He described how living in an urban community like that taught him what it meant to support others.
“Coming from Jersey City, everybody focuses on themselves,” Jackson said. “Me, I don’t do that. I want to see everyone succeed. I want to push everybody to their full limit. I don’t want all the shine on me, I want everybody to shine.”
All of this has led to Jackson becoming one of the most important players on the team. Jackson went from having barely any playing time at the beginning of the season to starting in the game against New Jersey City University (NJCU) on Feb.12, where he scored 23 points and made six rebounds.
Jackson has proven himself to be a crucial player for the Red Hawks, especially in the eyes of his coach and teammate. Standing tall at 6 feet, 3 inches, his height gives the Red Hawks a significant advantage when it comes to scoring points. His long build also makes for good defending, being able to go up for plenty of rebounds.
The road thriller against Rowan proved this. Although the Red Hawks lost in overtime 110-102, Jackson’s scoring performance is the third-best in a single game for a Red Hawk. He also tied the record for the most three-pointers made at 10, matching Daniel Ramis in 2018.
Potts spoke about Jackson’s recent hot streak.
“I think [Jackson’s performance] on the court kind of speaks for itself,” Potts said. “He’s a really good shooter, obviously, [and] he’s played really well of late. But, I think the thing that probably goes a [long way] is how good he is defensively. He’s a really good defender. He competes at a really, really high level.”
Flanagan said Jackson is only getting better from here.
“We all know how good of a shooter he is,” Flanagan said. “So for him, it just keeps on working. His shots are always gonna be great for us. And on top of that, you see on the defensive end he’s really playing a lot better [with] his rebounding [improving]. It’s not just [his] shooting which is good — he’s playing the whole system. It’s a great job as a freshman.”
In terms of what comes next for Jackson, the freshman says he and his teammates are focused on winning a New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship. And with the amount of talent Jackson has already shown, he could be the one to lead the Red Hawks there.