The four-year college journey is almost over for Tadric Jackson. The ride has gone far from smoothly. Jackson has traversed more than his shares of dips and climbs as the Georgia Tech senior has transformed from heralded high-school prospect to ACC veteran.
But it has been Jackson’s to walk, and he has accepted it. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, he said.
“I’ve just always been loyal to what I step my foot into,” Jackson said. “My mom always told me, ‘Don’t ever play games or be disloyal or back out of situations. That’s the sign of weakness.’”
Jackson’s father, Damedric, died at the beginning of his freshman season. The coaching staff that recruited him was fired at the end of his sophomore season. His new coach, Josh Pastner, has ridden him hard for two years. Injuries have hobbled him.
At the beginning of a senior season that was hoped to be a joyful capstone, Jackson endured another death in the family. He put himself in the embarrassing position of being suspended three games by the NCAA for accepting impermissible benefits. On the court, the Yellow Jackets have been hammered by injuries and played beneath expectations.
When Tech takes the McCamish Pavilion court Saturday against Wake Forest – senior day for Jackson and fellow senior Ben Lammers – the Jackets’ only hope for the season to extend past the ACC Tournament is for them to win the whole thing, a long shot.
“It’s life,” Jackson said. “It happens. You’re going to have some ups and some downs. You’re going to face some adversity. It’s just a test for everyone on the team. I guess it’s God’s plan.”
Eric Holland is the principal at Rome High, but previously coached Jackson at Tift County High. The two continue to communicate daily. He knows what Jackson’s family has faced – loss of life, financial and employment struggles and Tadric’s own struggles to make it at Tech in the classroom and on the basketball court.
“His life has never been easy,” Holland said. “Basketball has always been easy to him, and then when basketball became hard for him, I don’t think that he put his gloves up and started swinging because he said, ‘You know what? I did all this for my dad, to do this for my family, and it’s not working out.’”
Damedric Jackson died in August 2014. Holland described him as Tadric’s biggest fan, his best friend and his go-to guy. They shared his many triumphs in high school – starting as a freshman at quarterback for the Tift County football team, leading the Blue Devils to the Class AAAAAA state basketball title as a senior and being named the AJC’s player of the year for all classes.
“I remember him being really excited about his dad having the opportunity to watch him play in college,” Holland said.
The passing was followed a year later with then-coach Brian Gregory’s dismissal. Holland called it a “dagger” for Jackson.
Jackson, though, said he never considered transferring, determined to graduate from Tech. He said that when he was in high school, his decision to attend Tech was questioned by friends and teachers who weren’t sure he was cut out to handle the school’s academic rigor.
“It was an accomplishment I needed to get and needed to prove to myself and to anyone else,” Jackson said.
Jackson, one of six siblings, has been buoyed by a positivity that he said comes from his mother, Natasha.
“She’s one of those women where, you can never tell what’s going on,” he said. “You can never guess or you would never sense a moment where she’s actually down or she’s having a bad day.”
Jackson is on track to graduate this summer with a marketing degree, no small achievement given the time and travel demands placed on him and his teammates.
“He told me, ‘If I make it to be a pro, good, but I’m going to be the first one in my family to graduate, and that was his thing,” Holland said. “He never wavered from it.”
He’s an easy person to like. Even as Pastner has continually prodded him to practice and play with more consistency, he described Jackson as being a “sweet person” with a “very good heart.” Holland said that he has been like an older brother to his two young sons.
“I’ve been hard on him,” Pastner said. “But I love him. He’s a fantastic young man.”
Former Tech assistant coach Chad Dollar, who helped recruit Jackson Tech, calls his story one of perseverance.
“A lot of people doubted that he was going to be successful at Georgia Tech academically and athletically, just because of the stereotype of South Georgia kids, and I think he’s done an outstanding job of putting himself in position of having a pretty good career,” said Dollar, now at South Florida with Gregory.
The basketball has been at times electrifying. Perhaps his most memorable play was a dunk in his freshman season, thrown over Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku, a vicious hammer that earned top billing on ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the day.
“JACKSON SLAMS IT RIGHT IN THE FACE OF ONUAKU,” went the call from then-Tech voice Brandon Gaudin. “THAT WAS 6-2 PUTTING A POSTER ON THE FACE OF 6-10.”
He was the runner-up for ACC sixth man of the year last season, when he helped lift Tech to the NIT championship game. He has reached 1,000 career points and he scored a buzzer-beating layup to beat Northwestern in November of this season. Perhaps befitting a man described by his coach as a sweet person, Jackson said his favorite game was Tech’s matchup against Virginia Tech and his younger brother Tyrie, even though the Jackets lost.
“That’s always going to be something that I remember, playing against him in the ACC, my last year and his first year playing,” Jackson said.
Jackson wraps up his career playing point guard, a makeshift adjustment after the injuries that the Jackets have been dealt. It is perhaps a fitting way for him to complete his time as a Yellow Jacket, in a situation not of his own choosing but handling it with grace.